Wushu martial artist Phạm Quốc Khánh performs in the men's nandao event at the SEA Games 31 in May. He wins a gold medal in his last regional sports meet. VNA/VNS Photo
The current 2022 World Games is the first-ever edition wushu martial artist Phạm Quốc Khánh has taken part in. It is also the last international tournament that he will perform under the national flag as he has decided to end his impressive career by the end of the year.
After nearly three decades of contributing to the sport and the nation, Khánh, the most experienced athlete in the team, has earned almost all the world's most prestigious titles. He believes it is time to make a change after his victory at the recent SEA Games 31 in Hà Nội.
"I am (nearly) 32 years old. That's pretty high for wushu. My biggest dream of performing in my home town came true. It was even more wonderful as I took a gold medal," Khánh said.
"I will compete in all planned competitions until the end of the year, and then comes my retirement. My strength is not good enough for elite performance, and it is time to give the stage to my young teammates."
Khánh has practised wushu since he was a four-year-old boy in kindergarten. It took him five years to win his first national youth championship medal. He was the youngest participant but won gold, one of his best memories.
It has been 28 years since then, and Khánh has faced many challenges and difficulties but cannot explain how he overcame them.
Wushu martial artist Phạm Quốc Khánh makes an aerial acrobatic move during his men's nanquan event at the SEA Games 31 in May. — VNA/VNS Photo
"It was the world youth championship in 2008. I had a torn ligament in practice. I was shocked thinking I would waste my effort, labour and aspiration," Khánh said.
"But I decided not to quit. I received seven injections of painkillers and stepped into the competition. It still hurt, but I overcame nearly 400 competitors to win two golds in the men's nanquan and nandao events."
A year later, Khánh suffered the same injury three days before the SEA Games 25 in Laos.
"I thought I would be sidelined. But I tried several aerial acrobatic acts three hours before my nanquan performance. It was okay, and I decided to compete," Khánh said.
"I felt nothing while performing but thought of national pride. I was so moved and happy when I saw my points on the board. Until I was on the top podium, I felt really hurt in my leg."
In the SEA Games 27 in 2013, Khánh went to Naypyidaw in Myanmar with torn abdominal muscles, but he won gold in the men's nangun event.
Three years ago, in the SEA Games 30, a broken knee ligament was not a big problem for Khánh, who secured a title in the nanquan event.
Injuries have been part of his life, but could not prevent him from winning medals.
Under his belt are one silver and one bronze from the World Championship; one World Cup silver; two silvers and one bronze from the Asian Games; four silvers from the Asian Championship; and four golds, six silvers, and two bronzes from the SEA Games.
Wushu martial artist Phạm Quốc Khánh performs and takes silver in the men's nangun event at the SEA Games 31 in May. — VNA/VNS Photo
"I came to wushu and it was fate. The martial art has been part of my life. I have learnt sportsmanship, standards of behaviour and ethics from wushu and martial arts in general," Khánh said.
Losing 10kg for gold
Winning a SEA Games title on home ground was a dream of every Vietnamese athlete, including Khánh, who decided it would be his last regional sports meet.
Khánh was safe from injury at the 31st Games but had to work harder than usual to lose 10kg.
"The COVID-19 pandemic strongly affected my practice. I gained a lot of weight and was 78kg. I had to double my exercise to lose 10kg, letting me jump and move gently and beautifully," Khánh said. "It was not an easy task."
The veteran took part in three events at the Games, winning one gold in the nandao and one silver in the nangun.
"I was happy to compete at home and take gold in my last SEA Games. I have a little regret with the nangun silver, but I believed it was my perfect performance. I overcame my physical problem to perform with no small errors," Khánh said.
Wushu martial artist Phạm Quốc Khánh receives a gold in the men's nandao event at the SEA Games 31 in May. — VNA/VNS Photo
It was his fourth SEA Games title after his wins in the 2009, 2013 and 2019 editions.
"I am a superman. I have enjoyed wins and glory, which I gave to my friends and supporters as a 'thank you'," Khánh said.
"I will compete in the remaining events of the year before moving on to be a coach. It is a great end to my athlete's career and a brilliant opening for a new journey.
"Vietnamese people's fitness and stature are really suitable for wushu. I hope that with my experience and knowledge I will join good hands to help future athletes get higher results throughout the world." VNS