|Thirsty for success: Luong Van Toan (right) ends Viet Nam's title drought after winning a gold medal at the 26th SEA Games in Indonesia. Toan holds the hope of the nation in his hands. — VNA/VNS Photo
When Luong Van Toan won a gold medal at the 26th Southeast Asian Games, he ended a title drought in boxing that had persisted ever since Viet Nam returned to the regional sport competition in 1989.
Viet Nam's first gold in 23 years was also the first for the boxer, who made his international debut at the Indonesian SEA Games.
"I am very happy. Even now I cannot believe that I triumphed. It was my first Games so I did not feel pressure to win a title. I was just determined to do my best, earning as high a result as possible. But of course, a gold medal is every athlete's dream, isn't it?" Toan said.
Road to podium
Toan did not play sports as a teenager, and he became a boxer almost by accident in 2007.
He heard that the police team was recruiting athletes and came in to test for fun.
At the time, Toan was a student at Dong Tien Hai High School in Thai Binh Province and could not even imagine the life of a professional boxer.
Right from the start, coach Mai The Lam had his eye on the 1.85m-tall boy and recognised his natural competence in the sport. Toan left home to join the police team.
"During the first weeks of training, I could not perform all the exercises with heavy weights. They exhausted me and sometimes I wanted to quit because I didn't know if the work was having any effect," said 22-year-old Toan.
But coaches helped him to persevere and continue training.
One year later he was called to the national junior team and got the chance to train with many experienced fighters on the national team.
"I started thinking about the day when I would be like them, wearing the jersey of Viet Nam and competing in the SEA Games," Toan said.
Many people are under the impression that boxers must be muscle-bound, but coach Lam is quick to dispute that idea.
He emphasised that a boxer is a martial artist, and must cultivate his strength, agility, endurance and intelligence.
"Toan has speed, power, and a long arm span. He is intelligent and agile but still lacks physical strength and international competition experience. So his success at the SEA Games was unexpected. We just hoped that he would make it to the finals. It is his victory," Lam said.
Toan had no difficulty in the qualifying round of the 81kg category.
"In the semi-finals, I competed with a rival from Cambodia and knocked him out in 30 seconds. I did not expect such a quick win. It might be because I felt relaxed at the SEA Games and punched hard," Toan said.
Two days before the final Toan felt ill from the unfamiliar food in Indonesia, which also affected other athletes.
Some hours before his match his senior teammates Huynh Ngoc Tan and Tran Quoc Viet lost their bouts.
Toan was Viet Nam's last hope to bring home a title.
He maintained his spirit and performed well against Myanmar rival Ang Ko Ko, who could not defend himself from Toan's accurate hits.
Toan won 9-5 in the first round.
In the second round, the referee seemed to favour his rival and Toan was unlucky not to be awarded more points, finishing up 11-8.
The third and decisive round saw Toan's best effort, but he picked up only three more points while Ko took five, making the final score 14-13 for Viet Nam.
His teammates all jumped up and hugged him tightly to celebrate while Toan burst into tears of joy.
"It was the first time the People's Police team has had athletes called to the national team. The gold marked my great effort with the support of my coaches and teammates. The success has given me strong motivation to continue boxing," he said.
Toan and his teammates have finished a one-month training course organised by the International Boxing Association in the UK.
They are on the radar of the National Administration of Sports and Physical Training as Vietnamese athletes who have the potential to reach the Olympic level.
The administration has recently approved a US$100,000 budget for boxing in 2012, hoping to see new achievements.
"The money will help our athletes go train in developed boxing nations. With our support, we hope they will achieve our mutual dream of seeing them compete in London," shared Vu Duc Thinh, head of the boxing section. — VNS