Vietnamese fencer Vũ Thành An (right) competes in the final of the men's individual sabre event in the 30th SEA Games 2019 in the Philippines. He will defend his title in May in Hà Nội. Photo sport5.vn
The 31st Southeast Asian (SEA) Games will be the most special regional meet in Vũ Thành An’s career.
The ASEAN No 1 fencer will carry the national flag for Team Việt Nam and is targeting two gold medals. It is the fifth time he will be the country's flag carrier at a major sporting event.
Most of all, he expects to celebrate international victory on home turf for the first, with the SEA Games back in the country after 19 years.
“It is a very special SEA Games for me,” An told Việt Nam News.
“First, it is a showpiece organised in Việt Nam and my home town Hà Nội, a rare opportunity that an athlete may have just once in a lifetime if he is lucky.
“Second, I have to do two jobs at once: practising for a tournament and fighting against COVID-19.
“And third, because of the pandemic, athletes are put in an unusual situation. In the past, we had up to eight competitions per year. This year, nothing. It has not ever happened before.”
An and his teammates are in intensive practice for the Games, which will come in the next three weeks in Hà Nội and 11 nearby localities.
At the Games, An is expected to defend his titles in the individual and team events in the men’s sabre.
He will also be Việt Nam’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony on May 12.
Fencer Vũ Thành An (right) will, for the fifth time, hold Việt Nam's national flag at the SEA Games this May. — Photo nongnghiep.vn
“It is my honour and I am moved. I am proud and I am ready. I also feel a little pressure. Although it is my fifth time, believe me, it is a holy feeling when holding the national flag. This feeling will be stronger because I will do it in my home town,” said An. "Not every athlete has such a chance."
He previously was the flag bearer for Việt Nam at the Rio Olympics in 2016, the SEA Games in 2017 and 2019, and the Asian Games in 2018.
An is considered a 'lucky' flag bearer as after his service, Việt Nam won their first-ever Olympic and Asian Games golds.
Pressure, worries, confidence
An believes that defeat is unacceptable in such a special SEA Games.
“It is my own way to encourage myself ahead of the important tournament. I want to remind myself to strive harder every day,” he said.
The world No 46 said that COVID-19 has created many obstacles for him to maintain his performance levels.
No intensive training and competitive tournaments have blunted his skills. Meanwhile, his feeling is, for now, not as sharp as necessary for a sport where time is an essential element. Each match lasts only nine minutes, not including two minutes of break.
“We may practise well, but no competition means we can’t know how our abilities are. Sometimes our matches are not as good as in training, and we cannot compete as expected,” An said.
His absence from international tournaments has even pushed him out of the leading group in Asia.
Fencer Vũ Thành An feels pressure but expects a strong push at the 31st SEA Games on home turf. — VNA/VNS Photo
An was Asian No 3 and was full of hope to grab his second Olympic berth in Tokyo last July. However, he could not find the flights to compete in the qualifications and his chance was lost. To make matters worse, his ranking dropped to No 12 in Asia.
In the upcoming Games, the 30-year-old will have to fence against powerful rivals, including Srinualnad Voragun of Thailand who, unlike the Vietnamese, has enjoyed several tournaments and training camps in world fencing hubs over the last two years.
“My main rival will be Voragun. He is only 23 but has shown his talent since the 2017 Games five years ago,” said An, who has pocketed a total of five golds in three SEA Games.
“As far as I know, he has participated in many events abroad in the last two years. Recently, he travelled to Hungary and competed in the World Cup.”
The Singaporean athletes also form a strong team. They replaced Việt Nam in the overall leading position of fencing in the previous Games.
Although they have not touched An’s throne yet, three years have passed and things have changed a lot.
“Singapore is home to young talents who have grabbed high results. They work under quality coaches and receive strong support. They just returned home from a training trip to Italy, France and South Korea,” said An.
“My rivals have prepared very carefully with full support from the equipment and nutrition to competition. I know that it will be tough, but I will overcome our difficulties by working harder. I have about three weeks to reach my best. It is the only way if I want to win.”
Fencer Vũ Thành An (right) practises with a teammate in preparation for the 31st SEA Games where he is aiming for two golds. — VNA/VNS Photo
The champion, however, has massive support from family and friends, which he said brought a little pressure but strong encouragement, the likes of which he has never had before.
“Fighting for No 1 is never easy. Fighting to maintain No 1 is even tougher. We practise hard for two or three years and only have half a day to become a champion. The pressure is obvious, nervousness is unavoidable, and there is a little worry. But above all, I am confident of defending my titles,” An said. VNS