|Swimmer Nguyễn Huy Hoàng winning the men's 800m freestyle event at the 31st SEA Games. He will defend his title this May in Cambodia. — VNA/NVS Photo|
HÀ NỘI — After the team's unprecedented success at the 31st Southeast Asian (SEA) Games team last May, a 24-strong team will look to maintain Việt Nam's top-two regional position at the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia in May.
The team will feature the nation's best athletes, including defending champions Nguyễn Huy Hoàng, Trần Hưng Nguyên and Phạm Thanh Bảo and young talents who shone at the recent National Sports Games (NSG), such as Nguyễn Quang Thuấn, Phạm Thị Vân and Nguyễn Thúy Hiền.
At last May's Games, Việt Nam secured a historic 11 golds, 11 silvers and three bronzes, along with five records. All belonged to the male swimmers after the legendary Nguyễn Thị Ánh Viên retired before the Games.
The team's achievement, second only to Singapore, is even more impressive given Việt Nam previously never won more than ten titles, of Viên often contributed six to eight.
Head coach Nguyễn Hoàng Vũ said there were many works to prepare for the Games, but the most important one was maintaining his players' high performance and reaching their peak in May in Phnom Penh.
Among title favourites, Hoàng is still the best hope.
The 22-year-old bagged five golds, four in individuals and one in team categories, and two Games records. He is believed to continue his domination in the 400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyle after his amazing performance at the NSG last December, which brought him the first-ever Victory Cup trophy for the best male athlete of 2022.
Best young athlete of the year Nguyên took four golds and one Games record. The master of the individual medley since the 2019 Games will take charge of duty in this event this May.
Bảo was king of 50m and 100m breaststroke. He is also a title candidate for the 200m after a silver last Games, finishing just 0.16sec behind the winner.
The 31st SEA Games also saw remarkable swimmers' progress in team events which Singapore has dominated for years. The hosts won two golds in the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle and set up a new record.
Speaking at the Victory Cup awarding ceremony in January, Hoàng Quý Phước, on behalf of his teammates, took the cup for the Teammates of the Year category. He said the gold was thanks to the contribution of many people, from athletes to coaches. In the coming Games they could not promise gold but would do their best.
As well as the more experienced squad members, some younger members are also expected to shine.
Thuấn, 16, competed in the 31st Games and secured a silver in the 400m individual medley (IM) on his debut.
The Military team swimmer won a gold and set up an NSG record in the 400m IM where he swam faster than the SEA Games champion Nguyên. Thuấn also earned four silvers in both individual and relays.
Despite the men's success, no women won gold at the 31st Games. However, the presence of 14-year-old Thúy Hiền, who broke legend Viên's record in the women's 50m freestyle at the NSG, is a sign things might change.
|Rising star Nguyễn Thúy Hiền swimming at the NSG last December. She will represent Việt Nam at the 32nd Games this May. — VNA/VNS Photo|
In her NSG debut, Hiền set up a new record of 26.59sec in the qualification, 0.11sec faster than the record set by Viên in 2014. In the finals, she broke her own record with a time of 26.20.
Hiền also grabbed five silvers at the Games and was named in the SEA Games' list earlier this month.
Another hope is Lê Thị Quỳnh Như, who will compete in her second SEA Games this summer.
Last May, at the age of 14, Như was the youngest member of the swimming team and did not make the top three in her competition.
Six months later, she won gold at the NSG after beating Viên to win the women's 50m backstroke. Her result is close to the SEA Games' top three and is expected to be shortened in the last months before the May Games.
“Như is one of our potential athletes. She is expected to develop her best in the coming time to reach higher results," said Lê Thanh Huyền of the Swimming Department of the Việt Nam Sports Administration.
Swimming will be organised from May 6-11 and with a schedule of 34 events for both men and women. — VNS