Athletes put every effort into improving their stamina and physical skills on a daily basis, in the hope of bringing glory to the country and themselves.Sport is not simply about keeping fit. It is a profession for many that requires them to constantly exceed their limits and explore new physical and mental boundaries.Five Vietnamese athletes have already secured berths at the Tokyo Olympics, where the best athletes in the world are to come together to compete.They are swimmer Nguyen Huy Hoang, gymnast Le Thanh Tung, archers Do Thi Anh Nguyet and Nguyen Hoang Phi Vu, and boxer Nguyen Van Duong.
The globe’s largest sporting event has now been postponed to 2021, putting the athletes in competitive limbo for a year, but their training continues.
They are often spoken of as the hope of the nation. They train every day while believing that the pandemic will eventually be repelled and that the Olympics will proceed on their new schedule.All are working to turn the short-term disappointment into determination, opportunity, and energy.Their pride and passion have never ceased, even during these competition-free times. Training and strategy sessions are already part and parcel of their daily lives.We wish to encourage their indomitable spirit, perseverance, and hard work despite the obstacles and challenges, hoping they reach their goals.Through the stories from these Olympic challengers, we also hope to motivate those who are struggling or coping with failure but refuse to give up their ambition./.
Young talent swimming towards Olympic dreams
The first Vietnamese athlete to clinch a spot in the country’s 2020 Tokyo Olympics team, swimmer Nguyen Huy Hoang then suffered the disappointment of seeing the world’s largest sporting event delayed by a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The first Vietnamese athlete to clinch a spot in the country’s 2020 Tokyo Olympics team, swimmer Nguyen Huy Hoang then suffered the disappointment of seeing the world’s largest sporting event delayed by a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.“This is the first Olympics of my career!” the athlete, born in 2000, said in a rare talk to the press. “After smashing the 2019 SEA Games record in the Philippines, I increased my training to 20km a day with the ultimate goal of earning a ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. So you can imagine how much I was disappointed at the announcement that the Games were postponed until 2021.”However, the ambitious athlete showed understanding to the decision, calling it “right” and “for the people’s health”.
Keep dreaming, keep training“I first wanted to compete at the Games when my older teammate Nguyen Thi Anh Vien swam at the 2016 Rio Olympics,” Hoang went on. “So I was very happy to hear that I had reached the A standard for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This is what athletes around the world hope for.”To make a splash at the Olympics and the 31st SEA Games, he has been following a strict daily training schedule from 7am to 10am and 1pm to 4.30pm.Though the two events are scheduled to take place in the same year, Hoang said he wasn’t overly concerned because the more he tries, the stronger he will become.“For me, the busy schedule is not an obstacle. Quite the opposite – it will actually help me train better and go the extra mile.”He doesn’t believe in fate, and never believes he was born to shine like his name – Huy Hoang (Glory).“I think success comes from perseverance and hard work,” he said.
“I personally have no secret other than training every single day.
Hoang said he believes that if he had done his best but the outcome was not what’s expected then he should not lose heart.Failure is not the opposite of success. It’s just part of success, he supposed.“Keep training, and the hard work will pay off.”Loneliness vs Glory
“Swimming is very lonely,” Hoang explained. “Unlike sports on land, there is only you in the water, swimming up and down the lane.”Even on land, he is able to visit home only once a year, as a large portion of his time is spent on training.
However, the athlete said swimming was actually not his childhood dream. “I never really thought I would become a swimmer. Everything that has happened so far is beyond my expectations.”
He has been living far from home since he was in Grade 6, training as an elite athlete.
“At that time, I just thought swimming was good for my health. I was too young to envisage any future career.”
Along his journey to becoming a professional swimmer, Hoang has encountered tremendous difficulties.
“Learning to swim at this level is difficult, but improving is even more challenging,” he said, adding that a swimming career requires a lot of patience and persistence, and any glory today is a result of constant effort yesterday.
Recalling his most unforgettable memory, when he first swam in a regional tournament at the age of 12, Hoang said he was quite shocked and a little dazed because most of his rivals were much bigger than he was.“At that time, though, I was too young to dwell on it,” he recalled. “I just thought about how they could swim so incredibly fast. And when the time came, I just dived into the pool and swam.”Hoang conceded that as he grew older, he felt some fear at the Southeast Asia Age Group Swimming Championships in 2015 and the Southeast Asian Games in 2017.
“I really was nervous at major events like these, because I had to swim against strong opponents. But when I began competing, I somehow managed to turn my fear into a strength.”
He revealed that he could learn so much from the other swimmers, especially to fight no matter the circumstances are.“I’ve become fearless,” Hoang said. “Whether I succeed or fail, I learn a lot from my rivals. They are the most influential people in my career.”From humble to incredible
Born into a fishing family near the Gianh River in the central province of Quang Binh, Hoang started learning to swim when he was only 3 years old.His father remembered he would play all day in the water “like a duck” and swimming from one side of the river to the other became part of his daily life. Meanwhile, villagers often called him “otter”, because he was so good at swimming and very dark skinned.Hoang has conquered a lot of challenges at regional and international events for someone so young.At last year’s FINA World Championship in Gwangju in the Republic of Korea, he finished the men’s 800 metre freestyle with a time of 7.52.74.The time met the Olympic Standard A of 7.54.31, but was still short of his personal best of 7.50.20 at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics in Argentina when he won gold.Hoang also bagged gold in the men’s 1,500 metres freestyle at the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.He later made history in Vietnamese swimming at the 2018 Asian Games, winning one silver and one bronze.The silver was considered “as valuable as gold” as his older Chinese rival was one of the top swimmers in the world – a three-time Olympic winner and nine-time world champion.
The sky’s the limit
Despite his incredible achievements at such a young age, the swimmer never stops trying to reach further and higher.He doesn’t put a limit on anything, and the more he works the more he gains.
“To go further, I think we should never be too hard on ourselves. Take it easy and focus on the effort.”
All he can do is work hard every day to hone his skills and psychological power – the two decisive factors in winning not only at the Olympic Games.“Before my races I always encourage myself to stay calm, optimistic, and do my best,” Hoang said. “But I don’t think I have to win all the time. Winning or losing doesn’t matter as much as giving your best.”“In sport, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. But the game goes on,” the athlete concluded with a broad smile on his face./.
Twists and turns in the life of a would-be Olympic gymnast: “Practice makes perfect”
The second Vietnamese athlete to earn a berth at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, 25-year-old Le Thanh Tung considers the postponement of the world’s largest sporting event an opportunity rather than a let-down. “Even if tournaments are not taking place, I still practice every day,” he said in a hard-won telephone interview after his daily training routine in Hanoi.
Postponing the Games due to the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic is quite a dramatic twist for elite gymnasts like him, whose careers are believed to be much more rigorous and briefer compared to athletes in other sports.
Eyes on the prize
As Vietnam’s top male gymnasts, Tung and his teammates frequently take part in international competitions.
“I need to further fine-tune my moves and also get proper rest,” he said. “This helps me improve my performance and avoid major injuries so that I’m always ready for upcoming competitions.”
Tung revealed he now has one more coach, who is from the Republic of Korea, and added that training sessions have become more important for him.
He secured a berth at the 49th International Gymnastics Federation (FIG)’s Artistic Gymnastics World Championship in Germany last October. According to FIG’s regulations, athletes need to be in the top three in each category in order to qualify for the Olympic Games.
Tung ranked fifth in the men’s vault final but booked his place because some of his betters in the final had already secured passage to the Tokyo Olympics in team events.“I missed my chance in 2016 but am now able to realise my dream of an Olympics berth four years later,” the Ho Chi Minh City-born gymnast said. “This is one of the best moments of my career.”
Bitter leads to sweet
Many professional athletes spend a lot of time away from their families from early on in their childhood, and Tung is no exception.
Beginning his gymnastics career at the age of five, he went to train in China three years later and spent eight years in Vietnam’s northern neighbour.
“I’ve shed sweat and tears during training,” he remembers. “I was so young but had to do everything away from my family.”
“Those years were quite distressing. It takes a long time for gymnasts to achieve their goals, even though they start at a very young age.”
Calling it a day has crossed his mind, but such thoughts are always short-lived. He simply turns to his confidants for mental support and continues training.
People may endure a lengthy period of hardship for only a brief moment of fulfilment and delight but this feeling can be so rewarding and powerful that it transcends heartache.
2017 was an unforgettable year for Tung, as he won gold at the 10th FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Cup in Doha, Qatar at the beginning of the year.
In May, he triumphed at the Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Thailand – the first Vietnamese gymnast to bag a gold medal at the event.
At the 29th Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Malaysia three months later, he secured three gold medals in the men’s vault, horizontal bar, and team event.
The title of outstanding male athlete in Vietnam during 2017 was the icing on the cake, he said.
“Practice makes perfect”
This proverb has been Tung’s motto for more than 10 years.
“Even if you have talent but if you don’t train, you will easily be overtaken by those who work hard,” he explained.
He has struggled in various competitions but this merely strengthened his mental fortitude and helped him learn how to deal with pressure.
“A gymnast’s performance lasts only a short period of time, with everything decided in just a few seconds of twisting and turning in the air.“My most formidable opponent is myself. I have to maintain concentration to perform well.”
Working everyday to raise the difficulty level of his skills, Tung targets qualifying for the men’s vault final in Tokyo.
The 31st SEA Games may also be held in Hanoi next year – just three months after the Tokyo games.
“I will focus on what comes first,” he said when asked about the two dates being so close together. “Doing things step-by-step is more my style.” “My coaches and I will figure out the right approach when the time comes.”
A sport that can change a life
Living with injury is part and parcel of life as a gymnast, and many compete while injured.
“In gymnastics, we can never hope to be injury-free,” Tung said. “The best we can hope for is that the injuries we inevitably pick up are only minor.”
He believes in doing your best and keeping in mind that if you lose at one tournament then there’s always a next time. But as many in the sport know well, a serious injury can end a career in an instant.
“Gymnastics is a dangerous sport, so gymnasts must closely follow the rules and guidelines,” he said.
“I was mischievous as a child and had a hard time getting along with others. Gymnastics, with its firm discipline, helped me become the best version of myself.”
“I believe that a gymnast must have courage, confidence, and composure.”
Gymnastics has also allowed Tung to meet many wonderful people, in particular the “teacher of his life”, referring to his coach Truong Minh Sang, who not only guides him in sport but also teaches him good manners and millions of other little things.
Tung also has a great deal of respect for two renowned Vietnamese gymnasts – Pham Phuoc Hung and Phan Thi Ha Thanh. Both triumphed in international arenas after a long time struggling with injuries, becoming symbols of purpose and perseverance during times of great hardship.“I have learned to be independent and mature thanks to my time in gymnastics,” he said. “It has changed my whole life.”./.
Young “Robinhoods” shooting for the stars at Tokyo Olympics
Hanoi (VNA) – Securing a berth at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games has been a turning point in the sporting careers of Do Thi Anh Nguyet and Nguyen Hoang Phi Vu – the first Vietnamese archers to qualify for the world’s largest sporting event.Both found success at the Asian Archery Championships in Thailand last November and booked their spot at the Games, which has unfortunately been postponed until summer 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
From an unexpected turn …
Becoming an archer was not the first choice of either Nguyet or Vu, as they started their sporting careers as a basketball player (Nguyet) and a pistol shooter (Vu).Their coaches, however, came to recognise that they will not have a promising future in their initial choices but may somehow be more suited to archery, and then advised them to switch their sporting endeavour.Nguyet, born in 2001, at first declined but eventually agreed to try archery after encouragement from her new coaches.“It was really difficult at first because archery is, needless to say, totally different from basketball,” she said. “I had to adjust from a ‘busy’ sport to a ‘quiet’ one.”She gradually discovered the angles involved in archery and became more interested in the sport of bow and arrows.
Meanwhile, the 1999-born Vu has some advantage as his grandfather was a target shooting coach in Hanoi’s neighbouring province of Hai Duong province.
Recognising Vu’s ability, his parents agreed to let him join the provincial shooting centre at the age of 13.
After several months of training, however, Vu’s coaches realised it would be difficult for him to thrive in the sport because of his short-sightedness in one eye and astigmatism in the other.
He was then introduced to the local archery team in 2012 and won a place in the national junior team in 2015.
… to initial sweet success
Both Nguyet and Vu progressed well in their new sport and were sent to the Republic of Korea – the dominant force in Olympic archery – to undergo intensive training.
The training well and truly paid off as the pair finished among the top three in their respective men’s and women’s recurve events at the 2019 Asian Archery Championships, securing their tickets to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“It was a surprise for me to win a berth at the Olympics at my first international competition,” Nguyet said. This achievement, she went on, has pushed her to reach further and higher in the sport.
Similarly, Vu said this was a turning point in his career.
“The result was partly thanks to my efforts and partly from luck,” he explained, recounting that he had to compete in windy conditions and twice trailed his opponents. “But, fortunately, I clawed my way back and won, which made me so happy.”
Robinhood-hood aheadBoth Nguyet and Vu believe these achievements are just the start of a long career in archery, where they’ll have to face more obstacles and harder targets.Both recognise they are young and lack experience, especially when it comes to international tournaments.The Asian Archery Championships were their most unforgettable overseas tournament where they were expected to merely learn from the region’s best archers.What the pair did, however, was better than anyone could have imagined, even themselves.Nguyet said she never thought she would have such an early success after just two years of training.“This is major encouragement for me as I am more confident about international competitions, including the Tokyo Olympic Games.”For Vu, archery has now become a passion and his eye problems are no cause for concern.“I know it’s a disadvantage for me, especially when I have to compete in windy or rainy conditions,” he said. “But I will try to stay calm and patient, which are decisive in archery.”Both know they still have a long road ahead but what they have achieved so far will motivate them to work harder and aim higher.Prior to each competition, both said, they work hard to not put pressure on themselves and have found that calmness and concentration are key to success in this “quiet” sport.“Train a lot and stay calm and focused, and you can go as far as you want,” they both believe./.
From small teen to “natural born killer”: A Vietnamese boxer’s journey to Tokyo Olympics
Boxer Nguyen Van Duong is proud to be heading to Tokyo next year after defeating the renowned Chatchai-decha Butdee from Thailand in the Olympics qualifiers in Jordan in March, quenching Vietnam’s 32-year thirst for its next boxer to attend the world’s largest sporting event.The country has longed for something like this to happen since boxers Dang Hieu Hien and Do Tien Tuan both competed at the Seoul Games in 1988 as wild cards.
Unseeded Duong started his fight against third-seeded Butdee like a hurricane, showering his opponent with a slew of fast and powerful jabs that left his Thai rival gasping for air. In the first 47 seconds of the opening round he floored the Thai famous boxer twice, giving him an automatic victory under the new rules of the tournament.
This earned him a bronze in the men’s featherweight category (52-57kg) and an all-important Olympic berth. It was such sweet revenge, as he was beaten by Butdee himself in the SEA Games finals last year.
“He was not at his peak, as his previous match was quite tiring,” Duong humbly told the Vietnam News Agency. “I lack his experience, so I told myself I had to knock him out to not lose.“The victory means a great deal to me. It’s like a big staircase leading me to new heights and taking me to a much larger arena.”But the Olympic berth did not come as easily as it may seem, as the road to success has been quite a long odyssey for the tough fighter.
Small but lethal
Duong is smaller than most boxers. From northern Bac Giang province, he looked nothing like an Olympian-in-waiting when he discovered the sport of boxing in 2009 at the age of 13, weighing just 32 kg and standing shorter than average.“I went with my cousin to a boxing class the Public Security team in Hanoi held,” Duong said. “They initially said no because of my stature, but Coach Nguyen Anh Dung saw my effort and qualities so gave me a chance.”His parents were concerned about him when he first began to box. “But they never made it too hard for me,” he said. “They didn’t push me to do what they wanted, and were always supportive of my decision to box.”Duong said there was a time, in 2012, when he wanted to give up boxing, after suffering successive losses. Believing he and boxing were “not meant to be”, he did indeed quit.
“But after just a week I couldn’t stand it anymore, and finally called my mum to say I was going back to Hanoi for training.”“It’s your decision,” she replied. “You have to do the best you can.”“And I eventually made it!”Duong claimed three titles at junior national championships and two others at open tournaments in the featherweight category before joining the national team in 2015.
He won a silver at the SEA Games in the Philippines last December, and has grabbed three wins by points in three semi-professional bouts and won by knockout in his only professional bout. Duong also fought in a number of international events, including Victory 8.Legendary Australian trainer Dave Hedgcock called Duong a “natural born killer.” “He’s something special,” Hedgcock said.
The Vietnamese fighter idolises Canelo Alvarez, a Mexican boxer best known for his superior offensive skills and described as an “unstoppable tank”.
There is a common misperception that weighs heavily upon Duong – that boxers are as dangerous and aggressive outside the ring as they are in it.“That stereotype is completely wrong,” Duong said. “People don’t know me as a person. They only know I’m a skilled fighter and think that I love showing off my skills.”“Though I’ve been doing this for many years now, I don’t get into fights easily. It’s just not cool to hit others or be hit.”“Inside the ring, I can be a combative warrior. I have had many coaches and they all told me I look like I’m about to kill someone when I step into the ring. But in real life, I’m just a normal person – cheerful, friendly, and actually quite gentle.”“My mum sometimes teases me that I would make a good hen-pecked husband,” he said with a laugh.
Sticking to the goal
The on-going COVID-19 outbreak has forced most sporting events into a hold, but Duong has managed to stick to a tight training schedule of six days a week.A normal day starts at 6am, training with coaches. As boxing is one of the most physically-demanding sports, there are long sessions of running and weight-lifting in the morning, to help him increase his endurance and strength.
In the afternoon, he focuses on shadow boxing and heavy bag work, and studies the technical side of things.For Duong, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics being moved to next year is good news. “I think it is good for me because I will have more time to sharpen my skills, like speed, strength, and tactics,” he said.“There is one more year to go, so I’m working extra hard on technique and tactics right now.”
“I will give my best shot. Every match will be a final for me.”
“My greatest strength is that I am more determined than others.”/.
No Tokyo, but flame still burns brightly in athletes’ dreams
Hanoi (VNA) – The Olympic Games, one of the most-anticipated sporting events on the planet, was originally scheduled to start later this month in Tokyo but was postponed to July 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.For Vietnam’s elite athletes who have targeted these Games for many years, the delay is a major blow but their Olympic dreams have by no means come to an end.
Stay hungry, stay focused
Despite his incredible achievements for one so young, 2000-born swimmer Nguyen Huy Hoang, the first to earn a berth in the Vietnamese team to the games, told the Vietnam News Agency that he never ceases trying to reach further and higher.
This would have been the first Olympics of Hoang’s career and would have followed on the heels of him smashing the 2019 SEA Games record in the Philippines. He couldn’t hide his disappointment when talking to media after the announcement was made that the Games had been postponed.
The ambitious athlete, known as “otter” in his hometown, understood why the decision was made, however, calling it “the right thing to do” and “better for everyone’s health”.
“The Olympics are a major event for me and all elite athletes, but they were only delayed – not cancelled,” Hoang said optimistically, believing that the postponement may even be good for him as he will have another year to train and improve.For 25-year-old gymnast Le Thanh Tung, the second to earn a berth in the team, the postponement could be mentally tough given how rigorous his sport is and how brief someone’s time in the spotlight can be.However, like Hoang, he considers the postponement an “opportunity” rather than a “let-down”.Even if the tournaments weren’t taking place, he said he would still train hard every day.For Do Thi Anh Nguyet and Nguyen Hoang Phi Vu, the first Vietnamese archers to secure a berth at the Tokyo Olympics 2020, qualification was a “turning point” in their sporting careers and a “great source of encouragement” for the long and challenging path ahead.Both pinned their hopes on the world’s largest sporting event helping them become more confident when competing at other international tournaments.Meanwhile, Nguyen Van Duong, the first boxer to qualify for Vietnam in 32 years, said the postponement allows him to sharpen his skills, like speed, strength, and tactics.“There is another year to go, so I’m working extra hard on technique and tactics right now,” he said. Come the time, he will give it his best shot.
Killing two birds with one stone
According to Deputy Director of the General Department of Sports and Physical Training Tran Duc Phan, the postponement of the Olympic Games until next year is not terrible news for the Vietnamese Olympics team, as it aims to earn 20 spots.
Only five athletes have qualified to date, however, in swimming, gymnastics, archery, and boxing.
Sports such as women’s wrestling, fencing, track and field, swimming, badminton, and judo only offer a few opportunities to secure berths at the Games, but now the door is open wide as there is one more year for athletes to train and qualify.
One additional challenge, though, is that the Tokyo Olympics and the Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) are now both scheduled to take place next year, with Vietnam hosting the latter.
“Fortunately, the Olympics are taking place in the summer and the SEA Games at year’s end,” Phan said. “The four or five months between the two is just enough time for athletes to recover and reach their optimal performance level again.”
He told the media that Vietnam will focus on earning more spots at the Olympics but would also target SEA Games 31. In other words, it hopes to “kill two birds with one stone”.
For athletes who have already secured berths to Tokyo, participation in more than one international event in a year doesn’t present a problem.
“Rather, it will help me sharpen my skills and mental approach,” said swimmer Hoang.
For gymnast Tung, the frequent engagement in international tourneys is necessary to further fine-tune his moves and also get proper rest. “This helps me improve my performance and avoid major injuries so that I’m always ready for upcoming competitions.”
Young “Robinhoods” Nguyet and Vu also see opportunities in partaking in multiple international games. “We are still young, so the more we compete, the stronger we become.”
The natural-born boxer Duong shared the same views, saying his greatest strength is “determination” and he can be a “combative warrior” inside the ring.
At the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the Vietnam Olympic Committee fielded a squad of 23 athletes competing in 10 sports. Shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh claimed the country’s first-ever gold medal, in the men’s 10-metre air pistol on the opening day, and then followed it up with a silver in the 50-metre pistol four days later, emerging as the most decorated Vietnamese athlete in the country’s sporting history./.