|Making waves: Vien is Viet Nam's "secret weapon"for future important competitions. The teenage swimmer was provided with a US$200,000 training course to help her win a title in the upcoming Asian Games in South Korea. — File Photo
Viet Nam's athletes spent 365 days working hard in 2013 and had many successful achievements to show for their efforts. Now, a new season has arrived as they seek even more records and victories.
The Year of the Snake ended when the biennial Southeast Asian Games wrapped up in Myanmar in late December.
With 73 golds, 86 silvers and 86 bronzes, as well as winning the third position in the final ranking, the Viet Nam team successfully completed their difficult task.
The success was not only due to the number of medals received, but also because of the greater results in Olympic sports, such as track-and-field, swimming, shooting and weightlifting.
During their time in Nay Pyi Taw, the capital city of Myanmar, Vietnamese swimmers grabbed five golds, the highest number in the country's history.
Teenager Nguyen Thi Anh Vien was the most successful swimmer at the 27th Games. Taking part in eight finals, she won three medals and set two records. She was also the first Vietnamese woman to win at the SEA Games.
Her teammates, Nguyen Quy Phuoc and Lam Quang Nhat, completed a successful season for the team with two golds, in which Nhat saw an unexpected victory in the men's 1,500m freestyle.
The long distance category had never been Viet Nam's favourite in the past. Nhat went to the Games with a view to collect more international experience after completing a training course in France. The HCM City-born athlete's top place finish surprised not only the coaches, but also the team's leaders and himself.
The 16-year-old said he did not believe his eyes when looking at the result board, because he was near-sighted. He only knew the standings were real when he saw teammates celebrating in the stands.
Track-and-field athletes were also enjoying their successes, since it was the first time they won 10 medals.
Sprinter Vu Thi Huong, middle-distance runner Do Thi Thao and long-distance runner Nguyen Van Lai won two golds each.
Huong returned to the champion podium after missing the Games in 2011. Yet she removed all doubts before the Games that she would not win again because of earlier injuries.
The girl from Thai Nguyen Province had no difficulty winning twice in the 100m and 200m events. She also played a key role in winning a silver in the 4x100m event.
Thao came to Myanmar as a substitute when her senior, Asian champion Truong Thanh Hang, was sidelined with injuries.
Thao did not dissapoint her fans, as she left her rivals far behind in both the 800m and 1,500m categories.
Lai was trailing the defending champion of Thailand much of the race, but sprinted in the last hundred metres to cross the finish line first in the men's 5,000m and 10,000m.
In the previous Games in 2011, Lai finished third in both categories.
|International opportunity: The women's football squad are expected to win a ticket to compete at the Canada World Cup 2015. — VNA/ VNS Photo Cao Manh Tuan
Marksman Hoang Xuan Vinh, who won a gold at the World Cup in April in South Korea, earned three medals at the Games.
Weightlifter Thach Kim Tuan's chance to win a gold was doubtful before he departed. But the 20-year-old performed much better than expected, with a title and two records in the men's 56kg category.
Meanwhile, boxer Luu Thi Duyen made history for Viet Nam as she became the first female athlete to win at the SEA Games. The ethnic Mong athlete won in the 60kg class, decisively beating her Thai rival.
The 27th Games were the sixth competition in a row that Viet Nam finished among the top three teams. But these games saw the team's focus on Olympic sports, such as athletics and swimming.
"Swimming with five golds, athletics with 10 titles and shooting's 12 golds showed Viet Nam's progress in classic sports and they could even improve more. This turning point would play a key role in pushing other sports ahead," said Nguyen Hong Minh, former head of the Elite Sport Department of the National Sports Administration.
The seventh ASEAN Para Games also finished some time later, and the athletes with disabilities won 48 golds, ranking fourth among teams.
Athletes had a wonderful tournament, with seven more golds than expected. Discus athlete Nguyen Thi Hai threw 24.88m, which is better than the current world record. However, the Para Games does not belong to the world competition system, so her results were not recognised. Hai also won three golds in different events.
Her boyfriend, Cao Ngoc Hung, was on the top podium four times with two Para Games records. His record of 47.88m in the javelin event was also greater than the world record, though was not recognised.
The 50-year-old Nguyen Thi Thuy was also a "sprint queen" for Viet Nam, as well as the region, as she not only defended her title in the 100m, but also won in the 200m and long jump categories, as well as winning three Para Games records.
The Vietnamese also set records in swimming and powerlifting.
Do Thanh Hai and his girlfriend won five times, setting two Asian and two Para Games records. Hanoian Le Tien Dat also won four times.
Vo Huynh Anh Khoa claimed three golds, while Trinh Thi Bich Nhu triumphed twice.
"They received worthy results after many efforts. I am really satisfied with their performances," said coach Dong Quoc Cuong.
Powerlifter Chau Hoang Tuyet Loan won only one gold, but it seemed to be the most valuable as she broke her own Asian record with a lift of 102kg in the women's 55kg class.
Other headlines written about the national sport during the past year included the world blitz chess title of the International Grandmaster Le Quang Liem in June and a historic world bronze medal by badminton ace Nguyen Tien Minh in August.
Setting further goals
The new year has begun and sportsmen now have new tasks, including reaching the more difficult target of the Asian Games (ASIAD), to be kicked off in South Korea in September.
"The SEA Games, despite being the region's largest competition, have not exactly reflected the level of participating countries. The 14th ASIAD in Incheon (South Korea) will be different. It is predicted that it will be a big challenge for us. Therefore, we will select the strongest athletes who will receive special support for nutrition, coaches, training courses and others, so that they will bring home the best results," said Lam Quang Thanh, deputy head of the National Sports Administration.
Two golds are the target for the team this year, which is double compared to what they won in 2010.
Hopes are mainly placed on swimmer Vien, weightlifter Tuan, masksman Vinh, sprinter Huong, and chess master Liem.
Vien, who has seen a marked improvement in her career, has left for intensive training in the US. "Vien's result in 200m backstroke is among Asia's top three. If she can improve during the training course, she could think about a gold medal," said coach Dang Anh Tuan.
To make sure the dream comes true, Vien will take part in different tournaments, including the Grand Prix series. This will help her to improve her weak points, as well as learn more from her strong rivals, Tuan said.
"The training section was harsh and will be harsher for her because she hopes to win the first ASIAD medal for Viet Nam," Tuan said.
According to Dinh Viet Hung, head of the National Sports Administration's Swimming Department, Viet Nam's swimmers set a target of at least two silver medals, however, Vien is expected to do even better.
Hung said Vien was also Viet Nam's chance to win at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics 2016 and the 18th ASIAD in 2019 in Viet Nam.
The second hope for Viet Nam is weightlifter Tuan, who began training as a 12-year-old boy. His SEA Games records, Asian and world bronze medals recently made people believe the nation could win in Incheon.
His total lift of 285kg was equal to Wu Jiangbao of China, who won a gold in Guangzhou ASIAD 2010. It was 4kg less than the world record set by Om Yul-chon of North Korea, who will also compete in this year's Games.
Sprinter Huong has won two golds at the SEA Games. Her results of 23.55 seconds in the 200m event overcame Japanese Chisato Fukushima's 23.62, who won at the last ASIAD.
Shooter Vinh, the fourth-ranked London Olympian, who collected titles in different international tournaments, is expected to win in his strong event, the 10m air pistol competition.
And all eyes will be on GM Liem. The athlete has shown great progress after a year of training and competing at the American Webster University, the world chess hub, with a jump of nine rankings to world No 39, as ranked by 2700chess.com in January.
Gymnastics will also hold Viet Nam's gold medal hopes.
The Vietnamese squad's has two world champions, Phan Thi Ha Thanh in the women's vault and Nguyen Ha Thanh in the men's vault.
Both of them are No 2 seeds in the world. Thanh (female) has a better chance, as she recently left behind her main rival - Beijing Olympic winner Hong Un-jong of North Korea - at recent international tournaments.
"The Asian Games is as challenging as the world championships. The rules of vault are strict. Athletes must perform difficult moves in a short time. They must have iron minds and perfect techniques to achieve top results," said Nguyen Kim Lan, head of the Gymnastics Department.
"Thanh is one of the world's top athletes. We hope she would bring into play her best skills to win," said Lan.
Lan said Thanh (male) would face more obstacles, as his main rivals in the world are also from Asia. In preparation for his best performance, he will be sent to either Japan or South Korea for intensive training.
|Bright future: The national under-19 football team will compete at the upcoming Asian championships in Myanmar later this year. — VNA/ VNS Photos Quang Nhut
This year, the Games will be held from September 19-October 4 with 437 events in 36 sports.
Apart from ASIAD, Viet Nam is also looking at four other main competitions.
The women's football team hopes to win a ticket to the World Cup. Last May, they earned a ticket to compete at the finals of the Asian Women's Football Championships, to be held in HCMCity this May.
Viet Nam played in group A, together with Australia, Japan and Jordan. They hope to rank third, which is enough for them to enter the play-off round, where they will compete with two other third-placed teams for one remaining ticket to Canada's World Cup in 2015.
The national under-19 football team made a strong impression after winning a ticket to play at the finals of the Asian championships in Myanmar later this year.
The national men's football team will compete in the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup from November 22-December 20.
The unsuccessful SEA Games was left behind, as the team started on a new journey. The former champions have not tasted victory since 2008.
This time, as one of two hosts of the group, Viet Nam will have the advantage of home turf and fans. They are seeded No 6.
The last event will be the National Sport Games, which are organised every four years.
The fifth festival will have 36 sports, divided in two stages, with schedules to be set later.
The Games is the core competition, where experts discover new talents to compete for the nation. — VNS