Amita Berthier dedicates Tokyo Olympics berth to late dad
The 20-year-old became the first Singaporean fencer to qualify for the Olympics
The moment Amita Berthier scored the match-winning point, she collapsed onto the piste and five years of emotion was unleashed in a primal scream.
The 20-year-old yesterday became the first Singaporean fencer to qualify for the Olympic Games, after beating the host nation's Yana Alborova 15-14 in the women's foil final at the Asia-Oceania Olympic Qualification Tournament in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
But her win had an even deeper personal meaning.
The last time she was in Tashkent in 2015, she was 15 and placed 12th at the World Cadet Fencing Championships. It was also one of the last times she competed with her father Eric watching from the stands. He died in a workplace accident less than a year after that competition.
Describing her winning moment in Tashkent, Berthier told The Straits Times in a phone interview: "My first thought was, 'Thank you daddy'.
"This was for him. I made a promise five years ago when he passed that I would get to the Olympics, and I knew he was there with me, watching over me the whole day today."
Her mother, Uma, watching from Singapore, told ST: "She has always kept the memory of her father going within her, and she's found solace and strength from it.
"Before this competition, I told her to just remember those happy moments and remember that he is there with you, and so am I."
If the serendipity of the location of Berthier's triumph was not remarkable enough, she also had to fight through the pain barrier to come back from the brink of defeat to beat her opponent 15-14 in an incredibly tense final, to earn her ticket to the July 23-Aug 8 Tokyo Games.
After taking a 13-10 lead, Berthier was dealt a blow when Alborova struck her left ankle, which she had injured in the semi-final. With the Singaporean struggling, the Russia-born athlete - who won a team gold at the 2015 European Games - then raced to a 14-13 lead.
But Berthier's never-say-die attitude saw her dig deep to pull off a late comeback of her own and win the next two points and the bout.
"I think that was the most intense bout of my career so far," she said. "I can't even describe it. My main priority (towards the end) was to stay calm. Then I looked at my coach and he wasn't worried, so I wasn't either."
Before her feat, James Wong and Ronald Tan were the only Singaporean fencers to compete at the Olympics - both featured in the foil and epee events at the Barcelona Games in 1992 - but they did not have to qualify then and earned their berths by virtue of being Singapore's top fencers.
"I couldn't stop crying," said Uma, on the moment her daughter scored the winning point in the final.
"It was a hard journey, and it still is. But she's had great support from her university, from her coaches, friends and fellow fencers, and it felt like the whole world was behind her."
She is joined in Uzbekistan by Simon Lee (men's epee), Kiria Tikanah Abdul Rahman (women's epee), Kevin Chan (men's foil), Jolie Lee (women's sabre) and Choy Yu Yong (men's sabre).
Choy, 23, placed sixth after he was beaten 15-7 by Uzbekistan's Sherzod Mamutov yesterday.
Lee, 18, was defeated 15-12 by Saudi Arabia's Jawad Al-Dawood in the last eight.