Singapore fencer Zhang Zhenggang completed his first Asean University Games (AUG) outing in Palembang two years ago with no medal and a knee injury that eventually forced him out of last year's 28th SEA Games.
But at the 18th edition of the biennial AUG yesterday, the 26-year-old capped his recovery by winning the deciding point of the men's foil team final to cement the Republic's 45-44 victory over the Philippines.
With the scores locked at 44-44 in the final bout after eight rounds of closely matched ties, he showed no sign of nerves as he tapped the Philippines' Nathaniel Perez to bag the gold medal.
Speaking to The Straits Times after the match at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Zhang, a silver medallist in the individual event, revealed his team-mates' cheers kept him calm during the final point.
"We'd already come so far in this long and tiring match. My team-mates fenced very well," he said. "All I could think of was I couldn't let them down, and I had to finish the last point."
The other fencers in the team were Ong Chan Hao, who did not compete in the final, Jeremoth Tan and Justin Ong.
Ong, a gold medallist at last year's SEA Games, admitted he was "a bit worried at the end" as he watched the last bout.
"I was trying to encourage Zhenggang by cheering for him and maybe shouting some advice," said the 21-year-old. "It was an exciting match; I think we did pretty well and it's good that we managed to keep on form."
For the Republic's AUG fencing coach Wu Jie, his charges' performance did not come as a surprise.
"They had their chance and they took it," said Wu, who is coaching Singapore's AUG fencers for the second time. "Their opponents were good, but our fencers fought aggressively and showed good teamwork today."
The Filipinos were gracious in defeat, with Perez taking the loss in his stride. "I was very nervous at the end because it was all on me, but the Singapore team were more determined and confident today," said the 20-year-old.
Singapore have clinched one gold, two silvers and two bronzes in the AUG fencing competition so far.
Indonesia claimed the men's foil team bronze with a 45-34 win over Thailand.
The other final of the day saw Indonesia take the men's sabre team gold after beating Malaysia 45-31 in the final. Thailand settled for the bronze after beating the Philippines 45-22.
The AUG fencing competition concludes today.
It was also a good day for the Republic's flag bearer Pang Xue Jie, who teamed up with Kerry Tan to win gold in the men's table tennis doubles event. They beat Thailand 3-1 to win Singapore's first table tennis title at this AUG.
Said Pang, who will compete in the singles quarter-finals today: "It felt good to play at home. This is the table tennis team's first gold medal at the AUG so it definitely takes some of the pressure off, because we won a medal for Singapore."