|Veteran athlete Lê Thanh Tùng training on the parallel bars in preparation for the 31st SEA Games. He will join four other teammates in the men's team all-round event. Photo nhandan.vn
HÀ NỘI — Despite holding three titles and competing on home turf, Vietnamese gymnasts have a big challenge ahead as they face off against the best of the region at the SEA Games 31.
It will be the second time the country hosts the regional biennial sports showpiece, and Vietnamese gymnastics will send 12 athletes, six men and six women, to compete in all 14 events.
They will aim to defend their three titles grabbed at the previous Games, in the men’s individual rings and horizontal and parallel bars.
“Last Games, we won three golds. So we set a target of maintaining our top place in these events,” national coach Trương Minh Sang said.
“However, this SEA Games will be really tough for us because we will face powerful athletes from the Philippines in our strong events, the vault and parallel bars.
“Carlos Yulo won gold and silver at the 2019 World Championship in these two events, respectively. So defending our titles is not easy at all. However, we also have our own plans.”
The Việt Nam team this year is rejuvenated. Among the six male athletes, only veteran Đinh Phương Thành and Lê Thanh Tùng are still in the team. The remaining four will make their SEA Games debut.
Defending champion Đặng Nam, who won the men’s rings event in the previous four SEA Games, has retired. His place has been assigned to young talent Nguyễn Văn Khánh Phong.
In March, Phong made the case for his inclusion in the final round of the World Cup Gymnastics in Baku, Azerbaijan. It was an unexpected result not only for the athlete himself, on his international debut, but also for the coaching staff.
Though his lack of experience stood against him, the 20-year-old received much praise from the coaches.
“Khánh is a focused athlete, especially when in competition. He has never been affected by happenings on the sidelines. I am sure of his bravery and mentality,” Sang said.
The former SEA Games champion said his athlete earned a good score, which would help him vie for gold against the Philippines and Indonesia.
Apart from Phong, Đặng Ngọc Xuân Thiện has also been named by coaches as a potential medal-winning athlete on the pommel horse.
“Besides our strong events, we have also set sight on others. Our athletes must work hard, focus 100 per cent, push their limits and perform their best. I believe they can vie equally for medals with opponents from all other countries.”
Sang said, like Việt Nam, other countries have their own targets. They also have prepared well for the SEA Games and received strong support. The Philippines are now setting their eyes on the world competition. The key is which team does a better job at training and competing.
“Our first event is the men’s team all-round (on May 13) competition. All gymnasts share the same responsibility to contribute their best performance in all events to make sure they get the highest points for the team,” he said.
Gymnast Tùng, who has not totally recovered from his Achilles injury, is confident in the team event.
“Yulo of the Philippines is really strong. But the ability of the rest of the athletes on the team is not as good as Việt Nam. So we are confident of defending our title,” Tùng told Việt Nam News.
In the individual events, Olympians Tùng and Thành will take charge of their favourite events. Tùng is a World Cup winner in the vault while Thành is defending champion in the horizontal and parallel bars.
Their young teammate Phong and Thiện will be title candidates on the rings and pommel horse.
“It is tough but we will complete our mission,” Sang said.
|Coach Nguyễn Thị Thanh Thúy (left) instructs an athlete during training at the Hà Nội Sport Training Centre. VNA/VNS Photo Minh Quyết
On the women’s side, coach Nguyễn Thị Thanh Thúy said her young athletes expect to win a gold medal in the team’s all-round event, although they are competing in all six categories.
She said the Phillippines have just ‘imported’ American Aleah Finnegan to their team.
The 19-year-old used to be in the top 20 in the US and a substitute member of the national team. Finnegan is at a higher level compared to those in ASEAN.
“There are six women’s classes. Finnegan’s presence will make a big change in the five individuals. But we can vie for a top place in the team event," Thúy said.
However, Thúy believes her athletes can do a good job in individual events too.
"A positive sign is that my athletes are in a good mood and have a comfortable mentality. We will wait for any surprises,” Thúy said.
“Nguyễn Thị Quỳnh Như will compete in her third SEA Games. She can vie for a medal in the vault. Meanwhile, Đỗ Thị Ngọc Hương is expected to do well in the parallel bars. She won silver in the last Games and will aim for a better result this time.
“With a no-mistakes performance, any athlete could get a medal.”
The gymnastics will be held from May 13 to 16 at the Quần Ngựa Sports Palace. Entry is free for audience. — VNS