|Proud accomplishment: Duong Thuy Vi poses with her first-ever SEAGames gold medal, which was also the first title for Viet Nam at the Myanmar competition. — VNS Photo Quang Thang
With the Vietnamese wushu squad under pressure to gain titles on the first day of competition, Hanoian Duong Thuy Vi delivered a stellar performance to clinch the victory. Pham An and Huy Anh report.
Duong Thuy Vi stepped onto the SEA Games' competition mat under the worried eyes of all the sport leaders and managers.
They were worried because the wushu's taolu (performance) squad had been asked to win two titles on the first day of the competition. However, world champions Nguyen Thanh Tung, Nguyen Manh Quyen and Tran Xuan Hiep had failed in their attempts, as the first day of competition neared its end on December 7.
Chef de Mission Lam Quang Thanh expressed his impatience by pacing up and down the stand.
Vi was the last member of Viet Nam's team who was competing that day, so she was under pressure and feeling pretty nervous.
However, the Hanoian girl proved her mettle, despite a knee injury. She finished her performance to great applause and congratulations by coaches, teammates and spectators at the Wunna Theikdi Sports Complex in Nay Pyi Taw City.
The world champion won the judges' hearts and received 9.70 points, that pushed her to the top podium at the women's jianshu event, beating Myanmar's Sandy Oo and Malaysia's Eyin Phoon.
"Seeing my teammates' failure, I felt a little under-confident. But when I was on the mat I just focused on how to make it the best performance," said Vi, who cried and hugged her coach Nguyen Van Chuong after the final result was announced.
"Before the competition, I met the whole team, which had performed well at the world championship in Malaysia. However, when Hiep and Quyen failed, I was really nervous. But Vi's performance made me confident (of a gold medal) though a host athlete was to compete after her," said Thanh, who is also a deputy head of the National Sports Administration.
"Vi gave a wonderful performance with a high level of accuracy and difficulty and we were impressed with her expressiveness," said head of the wushu team Le Minh Ha, who also saw his athlete win a silver medal in the quiangshu event two days later.
"In my opinion, Vi had a successful year with a silver at the World Games in July and one gold and one bronze at the World Wushu Championships three months later," he added.
Route to victory
Born to parents who practise martial arts, Vi, 20, has always received strong support and encouragement since she started practicing wushu at the age of eight.
Her cousin had been practising wushu. One day his coach came to Vi's house and saw her talent for martial arts. He tested her in the long jump and she managed to jump 1.5 metres. From that day, Vi started her journey to become a champion.
"Vi has been an independent and strong girl since her childhood. I have never heard any complaints from her teachers," said Vi's mother, Nguyen Thi Hoa. "She is also hard-working. She did not miss a single training day, although she, at age eight, had to cycle 7km from our house to the sports centre," Hoa recalled.
Such mettle is necessary for wushu artists, who have to live away from their families when they join the national teams.
"We have only two kids. Sometimes I am really lonely, as she often stays away from home for training and competing. But we feel proud of Vi and what she has achieved. Many people have congratulated us," said Hoa.
Vi's mother added that sometimes she wanted her daughter to stop practicing martial arts because she worried about her daughter's future, which could be affected by injuries. But Vi's mother said that "she is in love with wushu and I don't want to disturb her".
Vi suffered her most grievous injury during the World Wushu Junior Championships in Indonesia in 2008, when she twisted her ankle after a jump.
In spite of the injury, Vi tried to complete her performance and then was carried away on a stretcher. The champion still needs massage and acupuncture to treat that injury.
"I asked her when she would stop. She said she wants this kind of a 'fighting career'," Hoa said.
For Vi, the SEA Games were her biggest challenge. During her first SEA Games in 2005 in Laos, Vi was very nervous. The 16-year-old girl made many mistakes and stood at the bottom of the table in quiangshu pool. But the failure pushed her to grow up quickly. Two years later, Vi improved her rank and picked up a silver medal in the jianshu event.
At the Myanmar Games, she nearly completed her medal collection, with titles of all tournaments, from local to global.
"I turned 20 in 2013 and it's the year I will never forget. My effort to return to competition has brought worthy results. The year saw my success - I won a world gold medal and a SEA Games title. The only title that I have not won is from the Asian Games," Vi wrote on her Facebook.
The girl said her life's motto is: "Never regret, always smile and keep fighting". — VNS