05 December 2019
A torn ankle ligament nearly derailed her SEA Games dream but on Wednesday (4 Dec), Kiria Tikanah Abdul Rahman stood proud on the top podium as Majulah Singapura rang out at the World Trade Centre in Manila.
Kiria Tikanah (right) stood tall and was unbeaten in Manila
The 19-year-old went through the women’s epee individual competition unbeaten at the 30th SEA Games to clinch the gold medal, defeating home favourite Haniel Abella 15-12 in a tense final. The last time Singapore won this event was 30 years ago, through Choy Fong Leng at the 1989 Games in Kuala Lumpur.
A day after the win, Kiria says the win has yet to properly sink in, having spent the most of the past year racing against time to be ready for the Games.
“I picked up the injury last year just before the Asian Games. At the time the doctor told me it wasn’t serious, so I carried on and fenced the team event in Jakarta,” recalled Kiria.
“Getting in the Asian Games team was a real confidence boost, that pushed me to train harder as it meant all my effort was going somewhere.
“I saw a different doctor after the Games who diagnosed a torn left ankle ligament, and I needed surgery to repair it. That ended my 2018 season entirely as it took me out for three months.”
Kiria Tikanah and Cheryl Lim, gold and bronze from women’s epee individual.
At the start of the year, Kiria and her parents made the commitment to aim for a spot in the individual competition. Each country is allowed to send two fencers, meaning she had to be ranked within the top two in Singapore to earn that spot.
“That meant going to a lot of competitions – mostly overseas – to earn the ranking points, and those trips can get expensive,” said Kiria, who managed to secure her spot in June.
That only meant a stepping up in her preparations as the first year National University of Singapore chemistry major now had to contend with additional training sessions in the mornings on top of regular evening sessions, with school in between.
Arriving in Manila for her SEA Games debut, Kiria’s target was to get into the medals, especially when the field included an Olympian from Vietnam. And her first pool match would pit her against that very opponent, Nguyen Thi Nhu Hoa, the defending SEA Games champion.
Kiria getting instructions from coach Henry Koh.
“I tried not to think about her in those terms and treat her like any other opponent, and the first point scored was a controversial one which she thought she won but the umpire awarded to me instead, and I think it flustered her,” said Kiria who went on to win 5-4.
Earning a direct path to the quarter-final, Kiria admitted the match against another Vietnam fencer, Vu Thi Hong, was the most nerve-wracking.
“There was so much at stake. Winning would mean a medal for sure but I could not hang on to a four-point lead, and we were tied 14-14 when time expired,” recalled Kiria.
“I was so angry with myself, and going into the one-minute priority, I knew I had to be aggressive as she had priority,” said Kiria.
In fencing, the priority is a sudden-death point, and the fencer who has the priority will win should time expire without a point being scored.
“There were several double hits before I eventually managed to get the winning point. That was a crucial win as I knew I had to be more fierce to win matches,” she added.
A 15-10 semi-final win over senior team-mate Cheryl Lim followed, putting Kiria into the final against Abella.
“It felt like I was going against the whole of Philippines in the final, and I wasn’t aware Haniel had a higher world ranking than me,” said Kiria. “I knew I had to gain early points and silence the crowd.”
That she did as Kiria got ahead and was leading 12-6 at one point before Abella fought back, with the vociferous crowd cheering her on. But the Filipina could only get as close as 14-12 before Kiria found her resolve to close out the match.
“At first the lead kept growing, and then she started catching up, that’s when I started feeling the pressure,” said Kiria.
“I told myself to not focus on the points but to focus on getting the right hits. For that final hit, I didn’t know what was happening, then I saw the light and realised it was for me.”
Having started her fencing journey at the age of seven, Kiria has many people to thank, especially her parents whom she said “have invested a lot in me, in terms of time, effort and money”. And there’s also Henry Koh, who has been her primary coach since she switched from foil to epee at the age of 12.
“Coach Henry helped to make my training more productive and went out of his way to give me extra training,” said Kiria. “It has been hard work getting here, I won this for all the people who supported me, including my team-mates and sparring mates.”
Added Kiria’s mother Belinda Ho: “Kiria is a very determined focused girl even though her journey has not been easy. We are fortunate to have a supportive coach, fencers and friends who understand her aim.
“Working with a limited budget, we gave her as many opportunities as we can afford. And we are very proud that she is able to achieve a high level of fencing and this important result.”
After two days of competition, fencing has surpassed its 2017 haul with two gold, a silver and three bronze medals. This includes bronze medals for Cheryl Lim in the women’s individual epee and for Joshua Lim in the men’s individual foil.
Men’s foil bronze medallist Joshua Lim with primary coach Simon Senft (L) and national head coach Andrey Klyushin