Ywen puts rivals to the sword
Sportsgirl of the Year wins women's sabre gold after five months out with injury
She returned to training only last month after being sidelined with a stress fracture in her lower back since February.
Despite less than adequate preparation for the SEA Games, fencer Lau Ywen rose to the top the heap to strike gold in the women's individual sabre in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
The 17-year-old, who won a historic gold medal at the Junior and Cadet World Championships last April, beat Thailand's Pornsawan Ngernrungruangroj 15-12 at the Malaysian International Trade and Exhibition Centre to improve on her bronze-medal showing at her SEA Games debut on home soil in 2015.
Ywen is ranked 32 rungs below world No. 118 Pornsawan, who is 20.
"It's been five months out, and I don't think I could stand staying out anymore," said Ywen, who was the first fencer to win a major award - the Sportsgirl of the Year - at the Singapore Sports Awards earlier this month.
"Fencing is a really important part of my life and being without it for such a long time… I really wanted to return to the sport and the SEA Games was the best place to do it."
Despite her long lay-off, Ywen showed no signs of ring rust as she won all five of her poule matches to power her way to the gold medal.
"In a normal cycle, at this time, I'd be doing conditioning, not fencing yet, but I really wanted to be at the SEA Games so I got up and tried," said the United World College of South-east Asia Grade 12 student.
"I think I did really well today considering my back injury.
"It's not my optimum yet, but the SEA Games was really a great step for me to get back."
She revealed her secret to success - to just enjoy the sport.
"When I fence, I want it to be about my own feeling, not about the results. My idea was to express myself on the piste, and have as much fun as I can," she said.
But Ywen could have been easily thrown off course in the final.
Taking an 8-6 lead into the first break, Pornsawan needed extra time for a medical break that forced Ywen to recalibrate.
"During the one-minute break, I talked to my coach and we had a tactical discussion. But, after I realised that she was injured, it shook my focus a bit," said Ywen.
"I tried to regain that confidence by talking to myself, visualising on how to return to that mental focus so that when I get back to the piste, it'll be all right.
"The last two points were very close and the bout was very intense, but I had a strategy in place."
Ywen's triumph brought a big smile to the face of her coach David Chan.
"The maturity she showed today is amazing. I'm really proud. We were going in there with process goals, trying to get her to get the feeling of competing at the top level again," he said.
"To be able to win a gold is a really great feeling (for her).
"It shows how she has bounced back from her injury, and gives her a really good platform to continue progressing for the rest of the season ahead."
Ywen's gold medal was the icing on the cake for Singapore's fencing contingent, who bagged a total of two golds and three bronzes in a showing that gives much hope for the future.
Amita Berthier, 16, won the other gold medal in the women's individual foil.
"This is the first time that we've got two individual gold medals at the SEA Games," said a pleased Juliana Seow, president of Fencing Singapore.
"We are improving at every major games. Ultimately, we hope that we will end up at the Olympics in 2024."