HA NOI — Pham Phuoc Hung is eager to get his Olympic journey underway today in his hunt for a medal in London.
Hung will be the first of Viet Nam's representatives to compete, just a day after the opening ceremony.
His first event will be the parallel bars, an event in which he won a gold medal at the World Cup in Belgium in June.
"I was a little worried before I arrived here about the food and training conditions, but the organisers have provided a wide choice of international cuisine that I'm enjoying," said Hung, adding that he had to be careful not to put on any extra weight.
"They've also built the perfect training facilities with the latest equipment that has helped me get in shape before the competition," said Hung.
"Now I'm excited and want to get started."
His coach Nguyen Tuan Hien also praised the organisers for their considerate preparation for the athletes and hopes Hung will retain the form he has shown during practise.
The two-time SEA Games champion will compete against rivals from Kazakhstan, Portugal, Bulgaria, Belarus and Tunisia. Lordan Lovtchev from Bulgaria is one of the most experienced Olympic participants. Having competed at six Games, he has picked up one silver in the rings and one bronze in the floor events.
According to Nguyen Hong Minh, general secretary of Viet Nam Gymnastics Federation, Hung has a chance of advancing to the next round due to the high difficulty rating of his routine. He has also shown his best form in recent competitions.
Hung took up gymnastics at the age of seven and was sent to train in China.
It took 11 years of intensive training to get him where he is today.
"It was really harsh. We had to get up at 5.30am to train. It was freezing in Guangzhou, and all of us were training and shivering at the same time. After breakfast, I continued training until late," he recalled.
"Training in gymnastics is in some ways more difficult than other sports. It hurts to start with, but then you get used to it. Glory comes at a price of blood and sweat, but that's life," Hung said.
Life has not been easy for Hung. After winning his second SEA Games' gold in 2005 in the Philippines, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bone.
"It really hurt but I thought it was just an injury and would quickly heal. Some months later when doctors told me the news, it felt like my whole world had collapsed."
"It was fortunate for me because I was in the early stages of the disease. If it had been any later, I might have been paralysed," he said.
Hung was advised to look for an alternative career, and his parents asked him to quit the sport, but the boy confirmed that his only love was gymnastics.
It took him a year to recover and successfully return to the national team.
At the 24th SEA Games in Thailand in 2007, Hung beat off strong competitors to win gold in the parallel bars and horizontal bar categories.
Since then, the Ha Noi-born athlete has collected over 30 titles nationally and internationally. Among them, the World Cup gold medal in Belgium and a ticket to Olympics are his biggest achievements.
He has also made history for Viet Nam.
"It has never happened before," said Minh on hearing that Viet Nam had two athletes who had qualified outright for London.
"Living and practising in a poor environment while occasionally travelling abroad to train makes what they have done even more special. They have done a great job," he said. — VNS