|Lại Gia Thành competes to win a gold medal at the 31st SEA Games in Hà Nội in May. He also set two new records at the regional sports meet. VNA/VNS Photos
As a young boy, Lại Gia Thành was disappointed not to qualify as an elite runner as he wished, so was introduced to weightlifting instead, a pivotal moment for the Vietnamese who went on to be an international champion.
Despite being known for his strength today, his youth in Bắc Ninh Province was all about running, though he narrowly missed out on a place on the provincial track team in 2012 when he was just 14 years old.
|Lại Gia Thành celebrates his successful lift at the 31st SEA Games' men's 55kg category in Hà Nội in May. — VNA/VNS Photos
"My height did not meet the requirements. So coaches sent me to the weightlifting in which height is not an important criterion, but balance is," Thành said.
The move felt like destiny as he is from Quế Võ District, a famous area for weightlifting. The district is home to the best national weightlifters, including Beijing Olympic silver medallist Hoàng Anh Tuấn and world champion Trịnh Văn Vinh.
Thành did not fall in love with weightlifting initially but gradually became more familiar with the sport before deciding to make it his career.
Over the last 10 years, the 1.58m-tall Thành has grabbed many remarkable achievements in the men's 55kg category. In addition to his domination in national tournaments, he has made his name internationally.
His first medals were two bronzes in the Asian championship for juniors in 2016. A year later, he took one gold and two silvers at the same event.
In 2018, the 20-year-old won three Asian junior golds before taking three world junior championships. Later, he secured silver in the world championship for seniors. 2019 saw him on the top podium three times at the World Cup in weightlifting and a title at the SEA Games 30.
Over two years of largely staying at home because of the pandemic, Thành could not join any international competitions or take intensive training courses abroad.
|Lại Gia Thành poses with his gold medal at the 31st SEA Games. The 24-year-old dominates the men's 55kg class. — VNA/VNS Photos
However, at the 31st SEA Games in May in Hà Nội, he still successfully defended his title and set new records.
The host athlete met no difficulty setting in the snatch event with a lift of 120kg or the clean & jerk with 148kg, a new record; the old form was 142kg. His combination of 268kg was also a new tournament record.
Thành's result was crucial in helping Việt Nam finish second in the weightlifting table.
"I was confident and comfortable when competing. It was the normal weight that I usually lifted during practising. Meanwhile, my rivals were not as strong as I expected," said Thành, the national record holder with a 272kg lift in the 2020 championship. His best in training is 294kg.
|Lại Gia Thành's family and friends came to encourage him and cheer his victory at the 31st SEA Games in Hà Nội in May. — VNA/VNS Photos
"I was thrilled when well defending my top position. Competing and winning on the home ground under family support were so amazing. This will be my most memorable SEA Games that I will never forget," Thành told Việt Nam News.
Five months after the SEA Games, Thành won two golds and one silver at the Asian championship in Bahrain.
He lifted 120kg in the snatch to go top of the podium, while his lift of 142kg in the clean and jerk brought him a silver. His total of 262kg brought him a second gold.
The Asian champion will have to defend his SEA Games title in about six months in Cambodia.
"I will compete in the World Weightlifting Championship in China in earlier December and the National Sports Games in mid-December. Then, I will take part in my third SEA Games [in Cambodia next year]. My target for all the tournaments is gold medals, and I want to set a new record at the SEA Games," he said.
Thành also dreams of participating in the Paris Olympics in two years' time.
|Lại Gia Thành won two golds and one silver at the Asian Weightlifting Championship in Bahrain in October. — VNS Photo of Diên Hoàng
"My category has been eliminated from the Olympics. So, I will have to move to the nearest class of 61kg," he said.
"I will have to increase my weight and work harder to adjust my technique and fitness to match the new class. I must participate in as many tournaments as possible to collect points to qualify for Paris."
Thành is satisfied with the life of a weightlifter and promises to contribute even more to the sport.
"Time flies fast. I have been doing weightlifting for nearly a decade. Weightlifting allows me to meet international friends and learn about new cultures. I also can introduce them to Việt Nam's beauty and its specialities," he said. "If I had to choose my career again, I would pick weightlifting right from the start." VNS