|Cueing up:Dang Dinh Tien defeats fellow Vietnamese Ma Minh Cam to take the men's title of the 1-cushion carom event at the 27th SEAGames in Myanmar in December. Tien has decided to retire after conquering all the Asian competitions, ceding the chance for victory to younger players. — VNA/VNS Photo Quang Nhut
by Thanh Ha
The man bowed low to kiss the billiard table as thousands of spectators applauded at the Wunna Theikdi Sports Complex.
Dang Dinh Tien was celebrating his victory at the men's 1-cushion carom event. He had won the gold medal after beating teammate Ma Minh Cam 100-85 in the final match at the 27th Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar last December.
A 53-year-old grandfather of two, Tien was the oldest athlete in the Viet Nam team.
The triumph, which was the final one of his career, was a wonderful goodbye present for the HCM City-based athlete after playing about 24 years of professional competitions.
Playing with a teammate had both its advantages and disadvantages. Tien knew that, but he still worked hard to claim his victory.
"The match between two teammates is always a big challenge because we know and understand each other. This match was even harder because we are at the same level," said Tien.
Cam was really a tough rival as in a resounding semi-final round match, he had knocked out the world-famous player Efren Reyes of the Philippines.
Tien went ahead first, leading by 56-36 points. Cam, who was the defending champion, made a comeback and levelled the points before making it 85-68.
Taking advantage of Cam's mistake, Tien scored 23 points in a row and made the final touches to win the match. This was his second SEA Games title.
"I am really happy with this win because it would be my last SEA Games," said Tien, who appreciated Cam and described him as a comprehensive and dynamic cueist, who previously beat Tien twice in national tournaments.
"There were moments when I found it really hard and thought I was losing, while Cam was at his peak. But I then motivated myself and focused fully on every break of my turn," he said.
A late start
Tien became familiar with billiards and snooker at the age of 11. But he got his first chance to play the sport regularly only 15 years later. Then he took four more years to turn professional in 1990 at the age of 30.
In 1997, Viet Nam decided to take part in the 19th SEA Games in Indonesia, but not in the billiards and snooker events where, it was said, there was no chance of winning a single medal. At the time, the sport was not popular among the people.
Tien and four other athletes made an important decision that he has never regretted since. They asked the permission of sport officials to compete and said they would pay all expenses themselves.
At the Games in Indonesia, they made a huge impact, winning one gold, one silver and two bronze medals. Tien got his bronze in the 1-cushion carom event. The team's performance was a turning point for national billiards and snooker.
He was part of a group of leading athletes but Tien, the oldest member, could not get out of the shadows of the big four: Duong Hoang Anh, Ly The Vinh, Phuoc Loi and Tran Dinh Hoa.
It was not until 1998 when, at the age of 48, he triumphed at the national championships for the first time.
It was a strong start for his bright career and he climbed quickly to the top ranks in Asia.
His iron will and special skills were the keys to his success. His experience in life helped him to have a stable and sound mind in all situations. This was really important in the tension-filled sport.
An accident that claimed the tip of his right hand's little finger in the past, when he was a carpenter, became his secret weapon.
Tien had to take unexpected rest after getting injured. Many people, and he himself, believed that his days of playing the game were over.
"The right hand is really important in billiards. It decides the speed and power of each break. The little finger is part of this," said Tien who almost lost his sense of touch with the cue and had to practice with it like a beginner.
But he managed to do it and became a special player in not only local but international tournaments also. His breaks were always hard and strange, helping him collect unfinished points.
He grabbed all the local titles before he took the 2009 SEA Games crown. In the same year, he became the champion at the Asian Championships as well as the Asian Indoor Games.
Busy being the bread winner of the family, Tien did not have enough time to train. That caused him to disappear from the national team which competed in the 2011 SEA Games in Laos.
Tien planned to retire but "my biggest indulgence is to meet teammates and play with them". So he tried harder and returned to the national team.
He said that despite winning many titles, the SEA Games gold medal would be always special to him as he wanted to let Southeast Asia know that Viet Nam is the No 1 carom centre of the region.
This time, the grandfather is satisfied with what he has done in his career and will definitely bid farewell to the sport.
He believes that the younger generation, including Cam, will successfully carry out their duty without him. — VNS