GOLD HOPE: Trần Hưng Nguyên swims in the 2019 SEA Games. Nguyên prepares to defend two titles at the event in Hà Nội next May. Photo zing.vn
Trần Hưng Nguyên is getting used to that winning feeling.
He may only be 18-years-old, but Nguyên is already a regular record breaker after making a big splash in the swimming pool.
And now he’s setting his sights on more medal glory at the SEA Games expected to be held in Hà Nội in May.
Last week at the World Swimming Championship in the UAE, he set a new national record at the 200m backstroke event.
His time of 1min 56.44sec may not have been enough to qualify for the finals, but it did smash the previous national record set by Trần Duy Khôi in 2016 by more than a second.
It is his fourth record in three years since joining the national team in 2019.
"I was surprised to beat this record that has existed for six years," Nguyên told Việt Nam News.
"I am happy and excited to have chance to swim again after nearly two years being locked down domestically due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Coming to the UAE, I just told myself to swim fast and better my personal best. This was better than my expectations."
Nguyên is quickly making a name for himself in the pool.
At the 2018 Southeast Asian Age Group Swimming Championship, the previously unknown athlete turned heads when he collected 18 golds, one silver and one bronze.
A year later, he competed at the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games winning two golds and two bronzes, setting two national and one Games record along the way.
“I could not believe I won because it was my first SEA Games," Nguyên recalled.
"I have taken part in international junior competitions but to compete at the SEA Games was unbelievable. I tried to keep calm and did not want people to see my legs shaking on the start block.
"I did not have any tactics at all. As a newbie, I was really worried I could not make the finals so I swam with all my best efforts in the qualification."
Trần Hưng Nguyên competes at the National Swimming Championship in Huế in April. Nguyên won six golds, six silvers and two bronzes. Photo courtesy of Trần Hưng Nguyên
After qualifying for the 200m individual medley (IM) final, Nguyên stepped up his game, winning the race with a time of 2:02.56, nearly three seconds faster than in the qualifier earning him gold and a new national record.
And all this when he was just 16 years old.
Three days later, the young swimmer earned another gold in the 400m IM and set a Games and national record with a time of 4:20.65.
Nguyên was born in 2003 in the central province of Quảng Bình to a poor family with three siblings.
He was spotted at an early age by coach Trương Ngọc Tuấn, a former SEA Games silver medallist.
Tuấn brought him to the National Defense 5 Sport Training Centre in HCM City when he was 10.
After three years, Nguyên became 400m and 1,500m freestyle champion of the Southeast Asian Age Group Swimming Championship's 13-year-old group.
He then dominated the junior championships until the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines.
But to achieve his remarkable success at an early age needed lots of hard work.
"I did not know how to swim and swallowed a lot of water in first weeks in the pool. But I got better gradually and coaches appreciated my abilities," said Nguyên.
"Home sickness was another problem with me. But coaches encouraged me, telling me that only by swimming well and winning medals I could support my family. Over time, I also got used to being independent."
After several years of swimming, Nguyên can now help his family, sending his bonuses home to help his parents improve their living conditions.
He is also getting into the habit of setting records annually.
Last year, he beat his own 400m IM record set at the SEA Games with a time of 4:20.63.
"Nguyên is a hard working athlete. He is quiet but energetic. These characteristics are really good for sports like swimming," said national team coach Hoàng Vũ.
"Nguyên is very strong in the individual medley but he also has potential in some other categories and is ready to compete for golds."
Trần Hưng Nguyên celebrates after winning a gold at the National Swimming Championship in Huế in April. Photo courtesy of Trần Hưng Nguyên
Nguyên's 200m backstroke national record this year proved what his coach said.
His time was much better than the previous record of 2:00.06 that Singaporean Quah Zheng Wen set two years ago.
"I practise as much as possible to improve my ability every day,” said Nguyên.
“I spent time to research and watch my rivals to find the best tactics against them. It was reason how I won in my events.
"At the SEA Games, I will have to defend my titles in the medley events. And I hope to win medals in backstroke categories.
"I also have further dreams, earning a place in the Olympics. There are two years to the Paris Games. I will work to qualify in medley events which are my strong points." VNS