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Second Olympics beckon for epee fencer Kiria Tikanah

As national fencer Kiria Tikanah Abdul Rahman celebrated her victory over India’s Taniksha Khatri at the Asia-Oceania Zonal Olympic Qualifier on April 28, the 23-year-old knew she had gained more than just an Olympic spot.

Confidence and motivation had eluded her in the last few years, as she endured a dip in form after the high of competing in her first Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021.

All that returned on April 28, when she beat Khatri 15-13 in the women’s epee final at the qualifier in the United Arab Emirates to earn her ticket to the Paris Games.

Kiria is the second Singaporean fencer to qualify for the July 26-Aug 11 Games after foilist Amita Berthier made the cut on March 17 via her individual ranking points.

Kiria said: “Coming out of the (Tokyo) Olympics, my motivation was sky high. I was desperate to go to the Olympics again. (But) in the last three years, that feeling didn’t really come back. I didn’t have the same motivation. Results were not uplifting and the motivation dwindled a little bit. 

“But this result brought me back to when I came back from Tokyo when I was so excited to go to Paris. I feel like that version of myself again.”

In 2021, Berthier and Kiria – who are now three-gold SEA Games medallists – were the first Singaporeans fencers to qualify outright for the Olympics. Both exited in the round of 32.

But after achieving her dream of competing at the Olympics, Kiria found it tough to keep going.

The 2019 SEA Games individual epee gold medallist had to settle for a silver at the Hanoi Games in 2022, and a bronze in Cambodia in 2023. She did, however, win team gold in both years. At the Hangzhou Asian Games in 2023, she lost in the round of 16.

With a second outing at the Games at stake in Fujairah, world No. 64 Kiria was the hot favourite heading into the qualifiers – only the winner of each event will get a spot – as she was the highest ranked among the 16 epee fencers.

The top seed progressed directly to the elimination round, where she notched a 15-8 win over Hanniel Abella of the Philippines, before edging out Amarzaya Batsaikhan of Mongolia 15-13 in a tight semi-final battle.

In the final, Kiria and Khatri were neck and neck, and drama ensued when Kiria was leading 14-13. Her opponent was given a second red card for using her non-fencing left hand to block Kiria’s blade, resulting in the final point being awarded to the Singaporean as Khatri dropped to the piste in anguish.

Kiria admitted to feeling the nerves towards the end of the bout, adding: “The match did not really go how I wanted it to... and I felt unsatisfied by the ending.

“But I will give myself credit for holding my nerve throughout the match.”

In the lead up to Paris, Kiria will compete in several Grand Prix events before the Asian Fencing Championships in Kuwait in June.

Kiria’s principal coach Henry Koh said: “Over the last few years, she has grown, dipped a bit and come back strongly. So I am very proud of her journey and how she’s been really tough and resilient.

“Qualification is the next step towards our real goal, which is to make sure that this time around, she has a really good fight and gives herself a really good chance to medal.”

Meanwhile, teammate Samuel Robson missed out on a berth after losing 15-4 to world No. 65 Taiwanese Chen Yi-tung in the men’s foil final.

There was also disappointment for Juliet Heng, who was eliminated by India’s Bhavani Chadalavada 15-8 in the women’s sabre quarter-finals.

Apart from the fencing duo, the Republic will also be represented in swimming (Jonathan Tan, Letitia Sim, Levenia Sim, Quah Ting Wen and Quah Jing Wen), athletics (Shanti Pereira), sailing (Maximilian Maeder and Ryan Lo), equestrian (Caroline Chew), rowing (Saiyidah Aisyah) and canoeing (Stephenie Chen).

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