Athlete Anh ready to sink or swim

February 12, 2023 - 08:16
Despite three underwhelming SEA Games under her belt, Vũ Thị Phương Anh simply refuses to give up. Her good results at the recent National Sports Games strengthened her determination to be a regional champion in the coming event in Cambodia.


FOCUSED: Swimmer Vũ Thị Phương Anh is one of five talented athletes of HCM City selected to receive strong support to develop their ability. Photo courtesy of Sun Life

Vũ Thị Phương Anh was a newbie at the 2017 SEA Games, and was seen crying after being disqualified at the 2019 Games. At the Games last May, despite great efforts, she could not even make the top three.

Despite three underwhelming SEA Games under her belt, Anh simply refuses to give up. Her good results at the recent National Sports Games strengthened her determination to be a regional champion in the coming event in Cambodia.

Late starter

When she was a teen, Anh was sent to swimming club as her parents wanted their skinny girl to have better fitness and body form.

Her potential caught the eyes of coach Chung Tấn Phong, head of HCM City's Aquatic Sports Centre, when she competed in an amateur event in 2015.

Although she was 14 years old, which was late to start swimming (the ideal age is from 6 to 10), Anh owned great physical attributes such as long arms and balance. She needed to spend little energy to move fast in the water. Such details were signs of great promise.

Phương Anh and her coach had to persuade her parents for four months before they agreed to let her follow sport professionally, which they didn't see as a stable job.

Several months later, she grabbed her first two bronzes at the Asian championships for juniors. The medals were key to her family totally supporting her.

"I recognised my ability much better than others, so I decided to be a pro. My bronzes in the first international competition were unexpected. My coaches just sent me there to test my skills and gain experience. They and I were surprised with the result. Since then, I have been 'stuck' with swimming," she said.

Anh can swim well in most styles, but her best is breaststroke. At the 2017 Asian Youth Swimming Championship, she took a bronze in the 50m breaststroke after only two years of practising.

She beat Việt Nam's legendary swimmer Nguyễn Thị Ánh Viên in the same event to take the 2017 National Swimming Championship, the first gold medal in her career.

Her win over Viên was a shock in the swimming community as Viên had had no local and regional rival for four years since 2013.

"I just tried to swim as fast as possible and hoped to improve my time. But when looking at the electric board for the result, I couldn't believe that I had passed talented Viên. Choosing to be a sportsperson, I think everybody wants to grab a milestone in career, so do I. The win was not a big deal but a strong push for me," she said.

Later, she secured three more golds including the 4x200m team relay when she joined her teammates to beat the defending champions, a military team including Viên.

The outstanding performance saw her chosen as one of the national team members at the 29th SEA Games in Malaysia where the 16-year-old finished fourth in the 400m individual medley. Earlier, she won a berth in the Asian championship's 400m individual medley finals.

Sharpening her skills and technique over two years, the swimmer was confident heading to the Manila SEA Games in 2019. But, ultimately, the TV camera spotted her crying near the pool.

ENDS IN TEARS: Vũ Thị Phương Anh seen crying at the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines. Photo

Minutes earlier, leaving defending champion Viên far behind in the 200m breaststroke heat, Anh looked to have a place in the final top three. But she suffered a shock disqualification because of a false start.

At the last May Games in Hà Nội, on home turf, she did not win a medal but was happy with her improved results setting her personal best in the 50m breaststroke of 33.08sec, which she considered a sign of her hard work.

Medal potential

Anh proved herself a regional games medallist after her outstanding performance at the recent National Sports Games where she bagged three golds, four silvers and one bronze in both individual and team events.

Heading to Phnom Penh for the 32nd Games this May, she wants to beat her limit and reach a higher level.

"My swimming journey is going smoothly as I have been well taken care of by coaches and supported by my family. They help me see and correct any mistakes. I am always open for learning and improving," she said.

MAKING A SPLASH: Vũ Thị Phương Anh will be a Vietnamese medal hope at the coming SEA Games in Cambodia in May. Photo

"Wins and losses are normal in sport. After competitions, we gain valuable lessons. Previously, I thought that the best moment was receiving a gold medal. Now, I look at my result first. If I win a gold, but the result is not better, it will be incomplete happiness."

Talking about the coming SEA Games, she said: "I am hungry for a SEA Games medal. I know that I will have to face powerful rivals but they cannot make me give up. The stronger they are, the more determined I am." VNS