|Nguyễn Trung Cường celebrates his 5,000m win at the National Sports Games on December 15 in Hà Nội. VNA/VNS Photo|
Nothing can compare with the happiness of being the first to cross the finish line. It is even much better when the result is a new record.
Runner Nguyễn Trung Cường struck twice at the 2022 National Sports Games. He brought home two golds and two records, shining again after three years of difficulties that had left his career at rock bottom.
Armyman Nguyễn Văn Lai had dominated the 5,000m event for more than a decade, both in the domestic arena and regional SEA Games tournaments. Even Cường believed that Lai would win, but asked himself to try his best though he was not the favourite.
The cold weather in Hà Nội that day, however, aided Cường. He made an incredible run to beat legendary Lai to grab his second title of the competition. His result of 14:33.54 was a record, beating the old one of 14:38.92 set up by veteran Lai 12 years ago.
"Lai was the biggest name in the 5,000m event for a long time. He is the SEA Games defending champion. I didn't think I could beat him," said Cường.
"When I was at the start, I just wanted to run as fast as possible. I was delighted to be the first to cross the finish line."
|Nguyễn Trung Cường (left) competes in the men's 3,000m steeplechase event. He wins and sets a new Games record. — VNA/VNS Photo|
A day earlier, Cường successfully secured his first title after three years in the 3,000m steeplechase with a time of 8:58.89, which was also a new record.
He left behind SEA Games champion Lê Tiến Long and SEA Games silver medallist Đỗ Quốc Luật who held the old record of 8:59.60.
"Two gold medals came to me partly due to luck but mostly due to my tireless practice and strong effort in these past years,” said Cường, who could not make a title hattrick.
A high temperature prevented him from running in the 1,500m event the following day.
The runner however, was known as a national talent since he was 18 in 2018, two years after he began his career as a runner. He put his name on the map when he won a bronze medal in the 3,000m steeplechase at the Asian Youth Athletics Championship and grabbed a berth in the World U20 Athletics Championship later that year.
He placed fourth in the qualification and advanced to the final round. His time of 8:51.16 was a new national record, which is still the height to beat for Vietnamese runners today.
He became Việt Nam's big golden hope in the 3,000m steeplechase.
"The Asian bronze surprised me as competitors were very strong. I cried when I received the medal, which was a miracle to me as I was faster than the SEA Games champion at that time," Cường told Việt Nam News.
"At the world event, I could not believe what I did. I cried again for happiness. I ran even faster than in the Asian event, and made not only personal best but a national record."
|Nguyễn Trung Cường (3rd right) runs in the men's 3000m steeplechase at the World U20 Championships in 2018 in Tampere, Finland. He set a national record. AFP/VNA Photo|
Under his belt were a gold and silver in the regional youth championship in 2017, a silver from the 2018 Asian U18 Championship, two golds from the 2017 ASEAN University Games and a silver at the 30th SEA Games in 2019, along with many titles from the national tournaments from 2017 to 2019.
"I thought a lot before choosing athletics because I loved photography and had plans for this passion," said Cường.
"Coach Nguyễn Thuận came and talked with me, sharing his opinion and experience about running, and I changed my mind. Starting athletics at the age of 16 was a little late, but Thuận helped me speed up, catch up with other trainees and reach the top."
He said the training conditions at the Hà Tĩnh Province's Training and Competing Centre were difficult. Athletes faced poor facilities and a shortage of equipment.
"Many sweat and tears fell on the track. Coaches' punishment and encouragement were parts of training. But all were strong forces to push me ahead," Cường said.
2020 was a bad time for every athlete, including Cường. The COVID pandemic prevented them from entering competitions, while later Cường's ankle and knee injuries meant he could not compete in elite tournaments in 2021.
His poor performance prevented him from securing a berth in Team Việt Nam to compete in the 31st SEA Games in May in Hà Nội. Therefore he could not defend the silver he grabbed in the Philippines in 2019.
|Nguyễn Trung Cường (2nd right) takes part in the 3,000m steeplechase on December 14. He is fast to leave behind SEA Games champion and runner-up to win a gold medal. Photo of Việt Nam Sports Administration|
In the end, it was his family that lifted him.
At the age of 22 Cường is a father of a little girl who makes his life more meaningful and helps him overcome every challenge he faces.
"My daughter is a force pushing me back stronger. My family is by my side when I face trouble. It is now time to focus on the track and look towards important tournaments," Cường said.
Witnessing Cường's growth since the beginning, coach Nguyễn Thuận is proud of his athlete and believes he could do much more.
“Cường was under high pressure when he competed in this National Sports Games and wanted to find himself back after plunging downwards over almost three years," Thuận told Việt Nam News.
"He met many problems during that period and was desperate. But he is a man of iron mind and strong determination. I have never lost my belief in him. I believed that he would come back stronger, and he made it. He had an amazing tournament with sweet results. And he definitely will reach higher peaks in the next chapters of his career." VNS