Athletics ready for golden task at 32nd SEA Games

March 21, 2023 - 08:46
Việt Nam has dominated the past three Games with 17 golds in 2017, 16 in 2019 and 22 at the last Games held a year later than scheduled in 2022 because of the COVID pandemic.

SEA Games

Runner Trần Thị Nhi Yến competes to win the women's 100m event at the National Sport Games in December. Nhi will take part in the 32nd SEA Games in May. VNA/VNS Photos

HÀ NỘI — Athletics is still the strongest sport of Việt Nam, and at the SEA Games, track-and-field stars are hoping to bring home at least 14 gold medals from the Cambodian meet.

Việt Nam has dominated the past three Games with 17 golds in 2017, 16 in 2019 and 22 at the last Games held a year later than scheduled in 2022 because of the COVID pandemic.

With just six weeks to go before the start of the Games, the team is training hard to keep its top spot.

“We have set a target for each group," said Nguyễn Manh Hùng, general secretary of the Việt Nam Athletics Federation.

"We hope to manage to win at least 14 golds. We can predict the maximum number of golds that we can earn from the Games, but that is our tactic so I cannot reveal that information to anyone."

The team has been training together since January with 53 promising members, in Hà Nội, HCM City, Đà Nẵng, Bắc Ninh and Cần Thơ.

"My team has been strengthened with several new faces after seniors asked to quit," Hùng said.

"The new ones were called following their good results in recent local competitions. However, the final list has not been made yet as all of them will have to vie for an official place,"

In the list, the federation named Lê Tú Chinh and Nguyễn Hoài Văn who are recovering from injuries.

'Sprint queen' Chinh's leg surgery prevented her from defending her 100m title at the 31st Games while reigning javelin champion Văn could not take part in last December's National Sports Games (NSG) because of a knee injury.

Chinh will train with Trần Thị Nhi Yến, winner of the NSG, and Kha Thanh Trúc, NSG bronze medallist, aiming to take back Games 100m and 200m titles for Việt Nam.

Trần Trung Cường is back in action after his good NSG performance, winning two golds in the men's 3,000m steeplechase and 5,000m.

Cường became well known nationwide when he advanced to the final of the world junior championship in 2018. He also won a silver at the 30th SEA Games' 3,000m steeplechase in the Philippines.

In the 800m event, Việt Nam has dominated for nearly two and a half decades. Two new faces, Bùi Thị Ngân and Nguyễn Thị Thu Hà, will hope to continue that long-standing success.

Ngân and Hà won gold and silver, respectively, in the NSG's individual 800m before winning the 4x400m for their Nam Định team. Ngân's result was even better than Khuất Phương Anh's who won the 31st SEA Games gold.

Other new faces are marathon runners Lê Thị Tuyết and Nguyễn Thị Ninh who were first and second place finishers at the NSG.

Their results, 2hr 24.30min and 2:48.30, were better than SEA Games winner Odekta Elvina Naibaho's 2:55.28.

Powerful senior athletes who are at a higher level compared to the rest of ASEAN include multi-time champion Nguyễn Thị Oanh, 400m runner Nguyễn Thị Huyền and walker Nguyễn Thị Thanh Phúc.

Nguyễn Thị Oanh is the best runner of Việt Nam in the 1,500m, 5,000m and 3,000m steeplechase. — VNA/VNS Photo

Oanh who won Asian Indoor Championship last month will defend her title in the women's 1,500m, 5,000m and 3,000m steeplechase.

Huyền won a silver in the Asian Indoor Championship.

Phúc, who finished sixth at the Asian Walk Race Championship on March 19, is a strong favourite in the 20km race.

Troubles ahead

Việt Nam will also face tough nations like the Philippines and Thailand in athletics, nations that have naturalised some international athletes.

American Umajesty Williams, who runs in the 400m, has become eligible to represent the Philippines recently. The 23-year-old's best time is 45.76sec, better than Joshua Atkinson, who won gold at the SEA Games last May.

Williams won silver at a local tournament for junior athletes in 2018. The same year, he and three teammates claimed a silver in the World U20 Championships' 4x400m.

Atkinson, originally an Australian, also joined Thailand last year and won four golds, which Việt Nam had won at the 2019 Games.

Shereen Samson Vallabouy, an American Malaysian runner, has become a threatening force in the women's 400m.

She ran 52.27sec at the NCAA Division II Championships in Virginia at the weekend.

It was much better than the three recent SEA Games winners and close to Huyền's personal best of 52.00sec in 2015.

Meanwhile, doping is another big issue in all Games, and athletes are always alerted about it. However, for many reasons, athletes still sometimes test positive.

After the 31st Games, five Vietnamese athletes had positive results with banned drugs found in their systems. Their names have not been revealed yet but it made sports doctors work harder to popularise information and raise athletes' awareness about doping and banned drugs in both training and competing, as well as their daily activities.

All competitors are asked to report all drugs and nutritious food that they eat to teams' managers and doctors to make sure they are safe for usage.

There will be 47 athletics events at the 32nd Games, from May 8-13 in Phnom Penh. Marathon and walk races will be held in Siem Reap on May 16. VNS