|Nguyễn Thị Ninh crosses the finish line at the Tiền Phong Marathon's 5km race. She will be one of four Vietnamese representatives at the 32nd SEA Games. Photo courtesy of Tiền Phong Marathon|
HÀ NỘI — Vietnamese marathoners Hoàng Nguyên Thanh and Nguyễn Thị Ninh are preparing to take on the best in the region, including a returning former champion, at the 32nd South Asian Games (SEA) next month in Cambodia.
Originally scheduled for May 16 in Siem Reap, the marathon has been rescheduled to May 6, disrupting the plans of Vietnamese athletes.
Despite the setback, they remain determined to succeed.
After arriving in Cambodia on April 19, they only have two weeks to familiarise themselves with the routes and weather conditions and adjust their training routines in time for the new date.
The return of former SEA Games champion Soh Rui Yong of Singapore will pose a significant challenge for all male marathoners, including reigning champion, Thanh.
Nonetheless, Thanh is determined to defend his title, while young newcomer Ninh aims to secure a top-three finish at her first international tournament.
A secret runner
Ninh competed in the National Sports Games (NSG) for the first time last December.
The 17-year-old caused a shock when she secured a silver medal with a time of 2hr 48.03min and picked a slot in the national team for the SEA Games.
"I didn't think I could get a medal because I normally run 20km-23km during training and only ran a full marathon for two months ahead of the NSG," Ninh told Việt Nam News.
"My coach let me run in the NSG to earn experience," she said. "During the race, I tried to follow the leading runners, and I made it."
After the NSG, Ninh won gold in the National Junior Athletics and another in the junior category at the National Bà Rá Mountain Climbing Tournament.
In early March, she finished first in the National Tiền Phong Newspaper Marathon's 5km category.
"She loves running and is focused on training and competing," said coach Nguyễn Tuấn Viết. "It is a good start for her, and I hope she will have better results in the future."
The teenager is excited to debut at the regional sports meet in May, which will also be the first time she has competed abroad.
"It is my first time representing Việt Nam in a major tournament," said Ninh, who will be Việt Nam's youngest competitor. "I am happy, nervous and excited."
"I don't set a medal target because it makes me shoulder heavy pressure. In my first big competition, I will learn from my seniors and give my all for the best result.
"Competing on away ground will be different from home soil," said Ninh. "I want to pass my personal best of 2:48.03. I am told that the weather in Cambodia is hard, with high and uncomfortable temperatures. But my teammates and I will move to the venue early to practise. It will help us a lot."
Ninh's result is better than the 31st Games' gold medal of 2:55.28 by Indonesian Odekta Elvina Naibaho.
As defending champion, Thanh's task is to keep the top place.
"In the last SEA Games, nobody knew me, so I competed without pressure," he told Việt Nam News. "But this year, they will keep an eye on me and prepare better to beat me. I will have to do better than them to defend my title."
|Hoàng Nguyên Thanh will face tough rivals to defend his title at the 32nd SEA Games. — Photo of Tiền Phong Marathon|
Thanh's victories at the NSG and the Tiền Phong Marathon proved that he is still the No 1 marathoner in Việt Nam.
He has prepared everything and is now waiting for the last training course in Siem Reap to complete his plan.
"There is always fierce competition in all races," he said. "But I believe that winning myself is the most important thing. This year, I aim to win all domestic tournaments that I participate in and set up new personal and national records."
Thanh's best time was 2:25:07, which helped him to win Sea Games gold last May. The national record to beat is 2:21:51, set by Nguyễn Chí Đông at the 22nd SEA Games in Hà Nội 20 years ago.
In Siem Reap, Thanh will face strong opposition from former champion Agus Prayogo of Indonesia and other medallists such as Tony Payne and Samchai Namkhey of Thailand and Muhaizar Mohamad of Malaysia.
In addition, he will see an old rival Yong of Singapore, who won twice in 2015 and 2017.
Yong was absent from two previous Games as he was excluded from his team because of his conduct and behaviour, which fell short of expected standards.
This year, he is expected to run in the 5,000m and 10,000m, and the marathon is also an option.
Yong is the national record holder of all these events. His latest result was 2:22.59 at the Valencia Marathon last December.
"Yes, I heard the news," said Thanh, who was beaten at the 2015 Games by Yong. "He's the current top runner in the region. I'm looking forward to a rematch with him." VNS