TOKYO – On the piste at the Makuhari Messe Hall on the morning of July 24th, Singapore’s Kiria Tikanah Abdul Rahman faced off against Romania’s world No. 1 Ana Maria Popescu.
But with only 35 seconds left on the clock, they were separated by a single point in the women’s individual table of 32 match at the Olympic Games.
A. Popescu Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
In April, at the Olympic qualification tournament, Kiria, then 21 years old, showed she didn’t care much about her global rating by defeating several better ranked opponents on her way to Tokyo.
On Saturday, she drew the score to 10-11, which was very close to her first career upset.
However, the 36-year-old A. Popescu kept her cool and won 15-10 in a fight of nerves. A. Popescu had more Olympic medals (two) than Kiria has Olympic bouts (one) prior to their matchup.
A minute later, with beads of sweat still running down her forehead, Kiria explained, “At the end I was rushing a bit because I wanted to keep the momentum up (after scoring two straight points) and also because… I didn’t have a lot of time left.
The depth of her experience was evident. She had anticipated my haste and taken full advantage.
The key to A. Popescu success (silver in the solo epee competition at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and gold in the team competition at Rio four years later) was experience, but Kiria gained some of her own in Tokyo.
A second-year chemistry student at National University of Singapore said she had the “eye-opening experience” of sparring with Popescu at a training session on Wednesday, and that she “badly” lost the five-point bout.
Henry Koh, her coach, considers A. Popescu to be one of the best all-around epee fencers, and he claimed that following Kiria’s performance on Saturday, she “moved up another half-level” in her tactical knowledge and mental toughness.
“Given that you only have three days to train, do you really expect to make that much progress in your strength or skill? The difference is up here,” he added, indicating his head.
Kiria showed resilience and defeated Coco Lin of Hong Kong, ranked 90th in the world, 15-11 in a table of 64 match earlier that morning.
The Singaporean not only had a 2-0 deficit early in their Tokyo matchup, but she also had a losing streak of two matches against her to contend with. However, she kept her cool, won the first of three rounds, and never trailed again.
Despite “freaking out on the inside” after falling behind, Kiria stated she was proud of herself for “simply having the bravery to execute my own actions and not to worry about the outcome of the match.”
Despite the fact that Kiria’s Olympic career was cut short after just two fights, she is more dedicated than ever to the sport she loves.
At 11-10, she felt she had a chance against one of the finest players in the world. “Being able to share the (stage) with world champions was pretty great,” I said, “so I wasn’t too bothered about losing the match.”