|Gutsy: Nguyen Thi Lua (in blue) has qualified for the LondonOlympics this summer – the first Vietnamese wrestler to do so in 32 years. — VNA/VNS PhotoNgocTruong
Nguyen Thi Lua will be the first Vietnamese wrestler to attend the Olympics in 32 years.
The 22-year-old won a silver medal during the Asian Olympic qualifying round in Kazakhstan to become one of around 20 contenders in the women's 48kg category in London this summer.
She met little difficulty in defeating Chov Sotheara from Cambodia with an 11-0 win in her first match and Nurmatova Mikhrniso of Kyrgyzstan 5-1 in the semi-finals.
Despite sustaining a shoulder injury during the first few minutes of the final, she refused to quit.
"My coach said I could withdraw from the match because I already had a silver medal and an Olympic spot, but I wanted to fight until the last second," said Lua, who subsequently lost 0-2 to South Korean Kim Hyung-joo.
Her success lead to Viet Nam‘s second athlete to represent the country in the Olympics following three wild-cards attending the Moscow event in 1980.
"I feel like I am flying. The special and valuable silver will take me to London, a dream come true," she said from Kazakhstan.
Success from bitterness
Born in Hoa Binh Province's Yen Noi Village which now lies in Ha Noi in 1990, Lua quickly developed a love for the traditional sport.
Her father, a huge fan of the event, sent his daughter to a club organised by the provincial Culture, Sports and Tourism Department at the Dong Quang School.
Under the guidance of former national coach Nguyen Dinh Khinh, who trained the three wrestlers at the Moscow Olympics, Lua became a full-fledged wrestler at the age of 12.
With exceptional power and speed, she made it into the provincial team one year later in 2004, during which time she earned her first bronze medal at the National Junior Wrestling Championships in the 46kg class.
Two years later the girl pocketed gold in the 48kg category and became a national team member in 2007 after scooping up a bronze at the Asian Junior Wrestling Championships in Taiwan where she made her international debut.
In 2009, Lua successfully grabbed silver at the continental tournament for juniors and bronze at the Asian champs.
While her collection of medals has made Lua one of the top athletes in her category, she has never triumphed at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, the biggest biennial sporting event in the region.
Viet Nam have for a long time been the strongest wrestling team in Southeast Asia, dominating most categories at the SEA Games.
The first chance Lua got to compete at the SEA Games was in 2007 when she came up against team-mate Nguyen Thi Van for the opportunity to represent Viet Nam.
"My unstable performance meant I lost the match, but I knew I still had a lot of chances. Van went on to win gold for Viet Nam which made me very happy," she said.
In Laos two years later, Lua competed as the only title candidate, her rivals having withdrawn due to her prowess.
"The organisers had to cancel the category, which meant my time spent training for a year was wasted. I cried a lot at the time," she recalled.
Two years later the 48kg pool still did not exist, leaving Lua watching her teammates wrestle on TV.
"Discouraged and disappointed, I decided to train even harder," she said.
"I have been involved with the sport since I was 12. As a girl from a village famed for wrestling I can not give up in the face of challenges."
Her sweat and tears finally paid off when she palmed a silver medal at the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, two years ago, her best achievement to date.
The athlete, who returned from Kazakhstan on Wednesday, will spend some time at home before flying to China to train with the national team.
She will be back in the country for extra preparations in May.
The International Wrestling Federation has announced the names of 12 competitors, including Lua, in the women's 48kg category, including six from the European qualifier, two from the world-qualifying round, one from the host country and one wild card.
Based on the list, Lua and her coaches will have sufficient time to study her rivals.
"Every athlete dreams of competing at the Olympics. I will strive my best to achieve ‘something special' this summer," she confirmed. — VNS