|Silver lining: Vu Thi Nguyet Anh will defend her title in the women's under-50kg category at this December's SEA Games. — VNA/VNS Photo
HA NOI n (VNS) — Karate is always one of Viet Nam's top sports and has brought the country many gold medals in international competitions. However, Viet Nam may face difficulties at the 27th SEA Games.
Asian Games champion Le Bich Phuong tore a ligament on her right knee during training recently. People hoped that she would recover in time for the Games.
However, Vu Son Ha, head of the Karate Department, confirmed last week that she would not be able to defend her SEA Games title this December in Myanmar.
The absence of the 21-year-old will strongly affect Viet Nam's performance, as Phuong was not only to take part in the 55kg individual pool, but also the team class.
The second loss is Thach Thi Trang, who used to compete in the women's 68kg category. Trang brought the first gold for the team at the previous Games, but withdrew from the national team to focus on her academic studies at HCM City Sports College.
The shortage of athletes is only part of the problem.
In Myanmar, the organisers plan to hold 17 events, four for kata (performance).
According to Ha, in recent years ASEAN countries have strengthened their focus on sports, so their teams' technique has strongly improved.
"Basically our athletes are young with qualified skills. They can compete for medals with other strong squads in the region. However, we should not be subjective and underestimate our rivals," said Ha. "Malaysia and Indonesia are our traditional main opponents. This year Myanmar will also be redoubtable, although they have not won any SEA Games golds.
As the hosts, they will have a great advantage, especially in kata events, where judges give points partly based on their sensibilities."
In preparation for the golden goals, the national team have been training together since early this year. They have taken part in a number of international tournaments, including an open event in South Korea in July where they pocketed three golds, one silver and one bronze.
The latest victory of the team went to Bui Nhu My, who won the men's 84kg category at a pre-SEA Games competition in April.
Return of the queens
Kata queen Nguyen Hoang Ngan will be back in Viet Nam's jersey after a two-year break due to serious injuries.
Ngan has no worthy rival in Asia and has twice topped world rankings.
The Hanoian suffered knee and cartilage injuries at a world championship in Serbia in 2010.
Ngan was sent to Japan, home of the sport, to receive treatment and improve her technique.
She marked her comeback with a title at an open tournament in Germany last year. This July, Ngan collected another gold in South Korea.
"Ngan has completely recovered from her injuries and is on track with intensive training under close supervision by Japanese doctors in preparation for the Games and the Asian Games next year," Ha said.
Recently, the local sport department provided Ngan with US$10,000 in support. She will stay in Japan until the opening of the Games.
At this time last year, Vu Thi Nguyet Anh was fighting a torn ligament on her left knee. Months later, she flew to Singapore for an operation. Since then, the SEA Games defending champion in the women's under-50kg kumite (combat) pool is struggling to find her peak but is ready to win as she did in the past. Two years ago, she won a title despite her leg injury.
Anh is one of the most experienced athletes on the team, with more than 10 years of training and practice.
The Hai Phong-born fighter has won five SEA Games golds and one gold and one silver at the Asian Games.
At the 26th Games in Indonesia two years ago, Viet Nam pocketed three gold, eight silver and three bronze medals. This year, the team managers hope to place in the top three.
The karate competition will be held in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar's capital, from December 12-15. — VNS