Champ: Bùi Thị Thu Thảo (centre) celebrates winning a gold medal at the Asian Indoor Athletics Championship in Tehran, Iran. — Photo courtesy of Bùi Thị Thu Thảo
Viet Nam News
by Thanh Nga
Việt Nam’s No 1 long jumper Bùi Thị Thu Thảo has had an exciting New Year.
And in early February she won a gold medal at the Asian Indoor Athletics Championship in Tehran, Iran.
“I started the New Year on a lucky note. I hope I will play well the whole year,” Thảo told Viet Nam News.
Thảo, 25, showed outstanding performance last year. She was honoured as the Female Athlete of the Year at the Victory Cup, the sports Oscar in Việt Nam, held in Hà Nội in January. The award is the biggest national prize for athletes and coaches who compete in tournaments and bring home laurels.
Last year, Thảo won a gold medal at the Asian championship, two others at the Asian Grand Prix and one title at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Malaysia, which saw her best result of 6.68m.
At the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games held in Turkmenistan last September, Thảo claimed a silver, with a long jump of 6.36m.
She closed the year with the No 1 position in Asia and as World No 25 recognised by the International Association of Athletics Federation. This is the first time a Vietnamese track-and-field athlete has achieved this result.
Thảo said she was looking forward to the 18th Asian Games (ASIAD), a pan-Asian multi-sport event scheduled to be held in Indonesia from August 18 to September 2.
“I will try to train hard to beat my record of 6.68m and take home a gold medal in Indonesia,” Thảo says.
“Thảo has a very good psychology. She always competes with all her heart. She is not afraid of facing strong rivals. She is expected to bring home a gold medal in the coming ASIAD,” former head coach of the national athletics team, Nguyễn Trọng Hổ, told Viet Nam News.
No pain, no gain
The road to victory was not an easy one for Thảo. She had to go through a difficult time when her results were unsatisfactory, and she suffered injuries.
Thảo was born in a poor family in the northern mountainous district of Ba Vì. As a kid, she used to help her parents bind bricks and grow rice.
When she was 14, Hổ saw Thảo’s performance at a provincial sport tournament and selected her in the athletics team of Hà Tây Province (now belongs to Hà Nội).
“Thảo has special qualities for an athlete in terms of deftness, rebound, strength and speed, so I chose her,” says Hổ, who is now head of the Elite Sports Department of the National Sports Administration.
After choosing Thảo for the provincial athletics team, Hổ left Việt Nam for China to undergo training, while Thảo was trained by Hổ’s assistants at home.
At first, Thảo was trained in the long-distance running category. But a few days later, she left the training centre to go home as she felt homesick and did not respond well to endurance running.
After spending several days at home, Thảo went to Hà Nội to work at construction sites to earn money for her family.
A month later, however, her father forced her to start training for sports again as coach Hổ visited Thảo’s home to persuade her parents.
“I trained again, thanks to my father and coach Hổ. Being an athlete, I had enough money to be fed and clothed and it also reduced my parents’ worry, so I agreed to train again,” says Thảo.
Hổ told Thảo that she needed to overcome herself. He told her she could not improve if she stayed at home. He encouraged her to take charge of herself so that she could take care of her family.
Since then, Thảo has made every effort to practise hard. She has gained medals at the national junior championships and ranked fifth at SEA Games in 2011 in Indonesia with 6.11m. She did not compete in any tournament in 2012 because of injury.
“Injury has followed me since I began training 12 years ago. In 2012, I had back injury and had to stop competing. At that time, I intended to retire from competition,” says Thảo.
But Hổ encouraged her to never give up. She continues treatment with acupuncture to recover from injury and puts up a strong fight in international tournaments.
Not betraying Hổ’s feeling, Thảo triumphed at the National Athletics Championship in 2013 and earned a ticket to compete in the SEA Games held in Myanmar, in which she earned a bronze medal with a leap of 6.14m.
Strong team: Bùi Thị Thu Thảo poses with her Victory Cup and former head coach of national athletics team Nguyễn Trọng Hổ (left) and coach Nguyễn Mạnh Hiếu (right). — Photo courtesy of Bùi Thị Thu Thảo
Leaping ahead: Bùi Thị Thu Thảo seen at an international competition. — Photo zing.vn
One year later, she received a wild card to compete in ASIAD Games in 2014 in South Korea. There, she shocked everyone with an excellent jump of 6.44m to bag a silver medal. She was defeated by her Indonesian rival Maria Londa, who recorded a jump of 6.55m.
The ASIAD medal was precious for Thảo, as she was short-heighted for a long jumper at only 1.65m. She improved her height after eight years of rigorous training and with the blessings of her father, who has been sick for many years now.
In 2015, Thảo was the runner-up at the Regional Games in Singapore, recording a jump of 6.65m.
She also had a successful year in 2016. She won a gold medal at the Asian Beach Games in Viet Nam with 6.32m and a silver at the Asian Indoor Championship in Qatar with 6.30m.
Thảo is thankful for her family’s support throughout her career.
“I was very happy to become the athlete of the year. I wanted to share this joy with my family and my husband immediately after receiving the award. I wanted to hug them for cheering me on and for their continuous support,” says Thảo.
There were times at the beginning of her career when Thảo wanted to give up, but her parents always encouraged her and asked her to give her best for a bright future.
A sense of responsibility towards her family and encouragement from her parents are the driving forces for Thảo to enjoy continued success.
Her husband’s love is another motivating factor for Thảo.
“I am very proud to be married to one of the top athletes in Vietnamese sport. She is mostly busy with trainings and competitions, so we get little time to spend with each other. Since she works so hard, whenever she is home, I help her in cooking, washing the dishes and clothes and other housework,” says Lê Văn Tiến, Thảo’s husband.
“Whenever I am tired or fall sick, my husband encourages me to help me overcome the stress so that I can train better,” says Thảo.
Thảo, who goes by the nickname “Thảo Bò Vàng” (Thảo the Golden Cow), is expected to shine in international events this year. — VNS