Swimmer Nguyễn Thị Ánh Viên has won 25 gold medals from the regional SEA Games in her 10-year career. Photo nhandan,vn
Nearly 25 years old, Nguyễn Thị Ánh Viên has won 25 SEA Games gold medals. She also had nine silver, two bronze and has held 11 records at the regional competition.
It makes Viên the most successful athlete of Việt Nam and fifth-best among ASEAN countries in the history of the SEA Games.
But it is understood she is considering calling it a day.
The Việt Nam Sport Administration (VSA) has confirmed that Viên has sent a letter asking to retire from international tournaments.
Her decision made national headlines and caused a headache for sports officials as the 31st Games is approaching.
A national treasure
It is the second time that Viên asked to quit. After making her intentions clear a year ago, she changed her mind and agreed to continue after receiving encouragement from supporters and two weeks of careful thinking.
In a meeting with officials of HCM City’s National Sport Centre 2, Viên said it was not a sudden decision but one she has been considering for a long time.
“Viên has shown her strong determination to quit the national team. She has contributed all of her youth to swimming and the national team. Now she is older and feels she cannot swim any better and her results are going down,” said the centre director, Võ Quốc Thắng
Viên has had almost no childhood like all her friends. She has not been able to enjoy the activities that other youngsters would such as hanging out with friends, travelling, and dating. There has also been little time for Facebook, and no make-up or nail polish. Her best friend was the pool that saw her swimming all day, six days a week.
She also refused scholarships offered by different universities and colleges in the US to focus on swimming.
Swimmer Nguyễn Thị Ánh Viên has asked for retirement from international tournaments after seeing her results drop in recent years. AFP/VNA Photo
Born in 1996 in Cần Thơ Province, Viên, considered Việt Nam’s treasure in sport, first shone when she took part in the National Swimming Age Groups Championship in 2011 and won 10 golds and broke seven records in 10 registered events.
At the age of 15, Viên was called up to the national team. In her debut at the regional 2011 SEA Games, she grabbed two silvers.
Since then, the ‘little mermaid’ has had no worthy rivals in domestic competitions and has dominated regionally.
At the Southeast Asian Swimming Championship in 2012 in Singapore, Viên won a gold medal in the 200m backstroke and finished fourth in the 400m individual medley. Her results made Viên the youngest athlete of Việt Nam to earn a place in the 2012 London Olympics.
A year later, she made history again winning the first gold medal for Việt Nam’s women’s swimming at the regional SEA Games. The tournament in Myanmar saw Viên three times on the top podium and setting two new records.
She has also achieved many ‘firsts’ in her career.
She was the first Vietnamese to win gold at the Youth Olympics’ 200m IM and medals in the Asian Games (ASIAD) in 2014.
She grabbed two silvers and one bronze in the FINA World Cup, and gold at the World Military Games, the first world level medals of Việt Nam, in 2015.
The year 2015 was definitely Viên’s best as she showed her outstanding performance at the 28th SEA Games. She shocked ASEAN by collecting eight golds -- which were equivalent to 50 per cent of categories organised in Singapore -- one silver and one bronze and setting eight records.
International media talked a lot about the phenomenon from Việt Nam. AsiaOne called her the Iron Girl while The Star said Viên was an athlete with world-class potential. And prestigious Swimswam identified her as Asia's multi-talented star and one of the five best swimmers of the continent that year.
Speaking with media at that time Viên said she had never been bored of winning.
“In every competition, I do not want anything more than taking as much gold as possible. I want to win every tournament with breaking records,” Viên said.
In the next two SEA Games, Viên could not maintain her peak but still won 14 titles.
“I have earned many titles and set new records in SEA Games but I will never stop working hard. I will leave these achievements behind quickly to look towards new challenges. If I am happy with what I have had, I am a loser,” said Viên who received the state’s Labour Orders, twice in 2015 and 2019.
Viên has been the first and the only athlete of Việt Nam that received a huge investment. She was sent to practice in the US from 2012 to 2019 with a total budget of VNĐ30 billion (US$1.3 million) with a view to naming Việt Nam in the medal tally of the ASIAD and Olympics.
Nguyễn Thị Ánh Viên wants to retire but still has a chance to grab more titles at the SEA Games in Hà Nội. AFP/VNA Photo
However, things did not go as planned. Viên could only win two bronzes at the ASIAD in 2014 and one gold and two bronzes at Asian Swimming Championships in 2016. She has never advanced to the final of any event at the Olympics although she has been the first Vietnamese swimmer to join the global event three times in a row.
Her results went down yearly since 2017 and her poor form at the Tokyo Games was the last straw leading to her withdrawal.
Viên competed in two events of 200m freestyle and 800m freestyle but she finished last in both in qualifiers.
According to Trần Đức Phấn, deputy director of the VSA, Viên’s decision might partly be due to high pressure on her at the recent Tokyo Olympics where she failed to make finals.
“Her decision is sudden for us because she is in our plan to receive strong support for the international tournament in 2022, especially the 31st Games and the 2022 ASIAD," said Phấn.
“In her letter she expressed it was time for her to complete her college’s degree, take care of personal life and step back so that younger athletes could shoulder national duties.”
He said Viên has been advised to think carefully and encouraged to continue swimming for Việt Nam as golds at the SEA Games and medals at the ASIAD are within her reach.
Whatever happens, with more than 150 medals from domestic and international competitions, Viên is still one of the greatest athletes in Việt Nam's history.
The success has made her a national treasure and her records should remain intact for a long time before anyone can break them.
Viên, who will still compete for the Military team in domestic competitions, is ready for something different. It is time to turn the page and begin a new chapter on her journey.
“After she takes her degree, if she wants to work as a coach, it would be great for us," said director Thắng.
"She is an excellent swimmer who has a strong influence on other athletes not only in swimming but also in other sports. What she has learned and experienced will be good lessons for future generations.” VNS