Viet Nam News -
By Khiếu Thanh Hà
Nguyễn Thành Ngưng still cannot believe that he will be the first Vietnamese athlete to compete in the walk event at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
Things are still a dream for the young man whose best result was a silver at the tiny-scaled regional Southeast Asian Games.
Ngưng and his older sister Nguyễn Thị Thanh Phúc were national representatives in Japan’s Asian 20km Race Walking Championship.
Phúc, the 2013 silver medallist, was expected to win her official berth based on her previous achievements and recent outstanding training performance, while Ngưng was totally under her shadow.
As a great hope, Phúc was sponsored by the Việt Nam Sports Administration (VSA), to train at the state level for months before the tournament. However, Ngưng was ignored. He could only travel to Nomi thanks to the financial support from Đà Nẵng’s Elite Sports Training Centre, where he is working.
However, it was the underdog who grabbed the glory.
Phúc was disqualified from the tournament because of a technical error, while Ngưng, despite not winning a single medal, passed the Olympic standard and will head to Rio de Janeiro this summer.
Ngưng’s result of 1hr 23.29 min was much better than the standard bar of 1:24.00. He also set a new national record, beating the old one of 1:26.53 he set last year.
“I did not believe that I would make it because I did not train well, and in my plan there was no place for the Olympics this time, it should have been the next one. I am now living a dream,” Ngưng said after crossing the line.
“My own target in Nomi was to break my national record. I was amazed that I could create a miracle,” he said.
Born in a poor family in Đà Nẵng in 1992, Ngưng took to sports at 14 not only because of his passion but also to reduce his parents’ burden.
Ngưng followed Phúc, who at that time was better known in local and regional competitions, to train in walking. His sister became his idol and also his strong motivational force for him to practise. Ngưng is also a good partner and encourages Phúc a lot when they train.
After six years, Ngưng competed in the national championship for the first time and grabbed a bronze medal. One year later he jumped to the top and has dominated the event since then.
He was called to the national team in 2011 and sent to Indonesia for the 26th SEA Games where he pocketed a bronze medal. He claimed a silver two years later.
In the latest games last year, Ngưng failed to be in top three because of injury.
“At first I took part in the Asian championship just for the experience and to support Phúc’s spirit as she shouldered some heavy duties to win an Olympic slot,” Ngưng, who only focussed on his training two hours before the tournament, said.
“Like other athletes I too wanted to peak in my career. But the poor result at the 2015 Games in Singapore really made me sad. I knew it was difficult and I told myself that nothing was impossible. I had to prove my ability,” he said.
“During my walk event in Japan I saw my chance when looking at my rivals, and I did try my best,” Ngưng said.
Despite being the national champion, Ngưng’s result could not persuade the national sports officials to list him as one of the potential athletes who would receive special support from the government as well as an allowance to compete in Japan.
Fortunately for him he is living in and competing for Đà Nẵng, one of the localities which provides special attention to talented athletes.
The city decided to sponsor Ngưng 100 per cent and he made it.
“I thought of nothing else, just walked and walked, and I ‘arrived’ in Brazil,” Ngưng said.
“Ngưng’s success shows his ability and the growth of national sports. He deserves to enjoy the treatment as a key athlete (just as his sister),” Trần Đức Phấn, deputy head of the VSA, said.
Ngưng said he was happy with the special treatment which helped him improve his nutrition regime and functional supplements.
He also expects to attend international training courses, especially at the South American destinations where the climate is similar to Brazil, to improve his results before taking part in the Olympics.
“Olympics will be very tough with the world leading athletes. I will try my best to improve my personal result,” Ngưng said. He is now walking between 18km and 25km every day as part of his practice schedule.
With his official entry, it is the first time in Việt Nam’s sporting history that a brother and sister will be competing in the Olympics.
The Brazil Games are scheduled from August 5 to August 21. The walks and marathon start and finish in Flamengo Park and Sambodrome, respectively. – VNS