Viet Nam News
by Thanh Nga
Australian coach Joseph Donnelly is considered a “Buddha” by the Vietnamese women’s rowing team: he trained the team for no money during four years (from 2010 until June 2014) with only reimbursement for airfares and accommodation, but has helped it thrive in regional and world tournaments.
Donnelly, a former Australian national team coxswain and club rowing coach, started work with the Việt Nam team in 2010 at his own expense, and he soon led them to the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. The team came away with two silver medals – the first rowing medals for Việt Nam at the Asian Games. Since then, Việt Nam have ridden a wave of success in international tournaments.
Donnelly, who represented Australia at world championships in 1974 and 1975, came to coach Việt Nam team by chance.
“I was on holidays in Hà Nội in 2009 when I saw a sign saying ’rowing club’. When I returned to Australia, I spoke with a friend who put me in touch with Nguyễn Văn Thắng from the Hà Nội rowing club,” Donnelly told the Việt Nam News.
“I met with Thắng and two other people at the Tây Hồ hotel, and they asked me to come out in the speed boat the next day to see the crews. I watched for the next three days and assisted Phạm Thị Ngọc Lan in coaching,” said Donnelly.
With this relationship established, Donnelly has led Việt Nam team through many intensive training trips to Australia. He even recruited his friends’ help to give the Việt Nam team a US$20,000 boat.
“Donnelly is a whole-hearted expert, and he’s full of love for Việt Nam and its people. His feelings and works make us feel moved and respected,” said Nguyễn Hải Đường, head of rowing at the National Sports Administration.
Phạm Thị Thảo, who competed in 2012 Summer Olympics and won two gold medals at the SEA Games in 2015 in Singapore, regards him as her father. She said besides his professional knowledge, Donnelly is very close with the team on personal levels.
Donnelly coaches the team in both in Hà Nội’s West Lake and in the northern port city of Hải Phòng. Rainy as well as hot days, the coach and his team wake up at 6am to start their training. At 3pm, they train again either on the water, in the gym or on the rowing machines.
After six years, the Australian coach’s efforts have led Việt Nam to second in the Southeast Asian region. But when he looks at his team, Donnelly thinks beyond the region; his rowers remind him of rowers from home.
“I just love coaching Vietnamese rowers, because they now think and train the same as the rowers in Australia. The thing I enjoy the most is the friendships that I have developed with Vietnamese sports officials and rowers. Those friendships have enabled us to build a strong team despite the many difficulties we face, such as funding and the lack of equipment and protein for the rowers,” said Donnelly.
Donnelly is currently in Australia, but he will return to Hà Nội on Saturday to start training for 2017 with a new team, as a number of the rowers stopped rowing after the Olympics.
“I hope that the new team will have athletes with the same potential as we have had for the past six years so that we can again qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo, just as did in London and Rio,” said Donnelly. — VNS
Việt Nam’s achievement under Joseph Donnelly’s guidance
2010: Việt Nam won two silver medals in the Asian Games.
2012: Việt Nam earned two tickets to compete at the Olympic Games in London.
2013: Việt Nam finished seventh in at the World Rowing Championships.
2014: Việt Nam won one silver and two bronze medals at the Asian Games in South Korea.
2015: Việt Nam won a record of eight golds, two silvers and one bronze medal at the Southeast Asian Games in Singapore.
2016: Việt Nam won two slots to compete at the Rio Olympics in Brazil. They also won one silver and three bronze medals at the fifth Asian Beach Games. — VNS