The year 2018 was an emotional roller-coaster for local teen fencer Sophia Wu. She lost the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete at the Youth Olympic Games, but made it onto the list to represent Hong Kong at the Jakarta Asian Games at the age of 15, making her one of the youngest in the group.
Almost one year after her debut at the senior level championships, Sophia, who is now 16, has found her feet in the battle against older, stronger and more experienced fencers.
For the first time in her career, the teen foilist parried her opponents all the way into the top 64 at the World Cup in Tauberbischofsheim, Germany, last month. Among the competitors she defeated was fellow Hong Kong fencer Kimberley Vanessa Cheung, who ranks No 1 in local senior women’s foil.
It was the first qualifying tournament for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and the budding fencer had earned herself two points. It may not seem like much, but it was an important milestone for a junior fencer like Sophia, who is trying to make the big leap to seniors.
“I’m getting a sense of what the senior world is like. As I turn 17 in October, I won’t compete in any cadet competitions any more,” said Sophia, who is ranked No 5 in Hong Kong.
The 16-year-old wrapped up her cadet era by winning an individual silver medal from the Asian Junior and Cadet Championships in Amman, Jordan, in February. Her attempt to redeem herself at the World Junior and Cadet Fencing Championships in Torun, Poland, in April, had failed, with a 63rd-place finish in the cadet event. In the junior event she managed to reach top 32 out of 143 contestants.
Sophia told Young Post she was in a bit of a slump before heading to the Junior Worlds in Poland, as she struggled to sort out her priorities. The Heep Yunn School student trains 15 hours a week, and often misses school because of overseas training and competitions. Sophia, who will take the HKDSE next year, was feeling the pressure.
“I had a lot on my plate, and I didn’t know how to tackle all of my tasks, and the frustration really got to me,” she said. “I was so tired that I didn’t want to fence any more.”
Still, her unexpected 26th place finish in the junior category was proof to the fencer that she is not ready to quit a sport she’s been doing for a decade.
Sophia has always led her various junior teams. But, on the senior team she will be the fourth and reserve player. Sophia has more opportunities to fence in the ranking matches (where teams vie for a better ranking positions after they lose in the main table), and she may substitute for her teammates if they get injured or underperform.
“I don’t mind sitting on the bench. In fact, I think I fence better as a reserve. I’m less stressed than if I were fencing the last leg, with the whole team pinning their hope on me,” she said.
Sophia flies out to Japan today for her very first Asian Fencing Championship, and where she is hoping to make a strong debut and help the team retain their bronze medal, or even move up to silver or gold.
The Form Five student also plans to become a full-time athlete after graduating next year, or she may extend her university study to fulfil her dream of going to the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France.
“At the moment, this goal seems quite impossible, but I can see myself becoming a full-time fencer in five year’s time, and I expect to see improvements,” she said.
To realise her goals, Sophia must conquer a great enemy, that is, her love for food. The foodie said she could eat all she wanted when she was younger and it would not show, but in the past year, she has put on quite some weight with all the snacks and drinks, particularly bubble milk tea, she has noshed.
“The nutritionist has asked me to cut down to one drink per month, and gave me a list of healthier lunch options nearby my school. I really need to have better self-control,” she said, laughing.