|ICE QUEEN: Trần Thị Đoan Trang, alias Susan Trần, secures a bronze medal at the IBSF Asian Open Championships 2023's women’s monobob category held in Pyeong Chang, South Korea. Photo courtesy of Trần Thị Đoan Trang|
Born and raised in a tropical country, Trần Thị Đoan Trang spent years without ever seeing ice and snow. But, in a turn of events that could have come straight out of the US comedy film Cool Runnings, her life changed dramatically when she learned how to bobsleigh. Now, she has a dream of being the first Vietnamese athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics.
In early March, Trang (also known as Susan Trần) won a bronze medal at the IBSF Asian Open Championships 2023's in the women’s monobob category held in Pyeong Chang, South Korea.
“Preparing for this championship, I only practised in Việt Nam. My exercises were to improve my physical strength and I ran to lift my endurance," Trang said.
"I have not practised on ice for almost a year. The regular shortage of standard training equipment and the tough weather also made my race harder. But I wanted to let people know that Vietnamese athletes can do winter sports well."
The bronze was her first step preparing for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan, Italy.
The athlete was once one of the most famous female motor racers in Việt Nam, starting out with the Moto Gymkhana in 2014.
|SKATING ON THIN ICE: Trang has been practising bobsleigh for three years. She is one of the first members of the national bobsleigh and skeleton team. — Photo courtesy of Trần Thị Đoan Trang|
Over six years, she grabbed many local and international prizes, and was the first and the only Vietnamese woman racer to sign a deal with a Japanese team, One for All, to compete at the prestigious Asian Road Racing Championship.
She also tried Go Karting when it first came to Việt Nam, and made remarkable achievements in that sport too.
Trang was then invited to join the bobsleigh and skeleton team of Nguyễn Dân An, a Vietnamese living in the US. An had watched the bobsleigh and skeleton at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and believed that he could do well in it.
The bobsleigh is a sport in which an individual or teams of two or four bobsleighers, seated in line, perform timed races aboard a streamlined machine sliding on a narrow and winding sloping ice track.
Although it has featured in virtually every Winter Olympics since 1924, the bobsleigh is not really familiar to communities living in warmer countries without snow and ice.
An faced with many difficulties, but finally saw the sport accepted by Việt Nam's skating federation in the summer of 2020.
|GETTING READY: Trang has faced with many challenges from the shortage of facilities and equipment to lack of financial support during training and competing. Photo courtesy of Trần Thị Đoan Trang|
Trang was one of the first team members scouted by An.
"I was introduced to bobsleigh by An who inspired me to dream of waving the Việt Nam national flag as the winner of a sport internationally," Trang told Việt Nam News.
By the end of 2020, Trang and her teammates were offered a training course "New Horizon Sliding Champions" by the PyeongChang 2018 Legacy Foundation. It aimed at helping athletes from non-winter sports countries develop skills and train in ice sports to secure a place at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
"Bobsleigh is more dangerous than motor racing. You cannot control the speed of the sleigh. Once you are on it, you have to finish your race. Otherwise, you will flip the sled over," Trang said.
"My experience of motorsports helped me a lot, though. I quickly adapted and managed the speed and curves on the tracks."
|CLOSE: Trang was initially on track to being the first Vietnamese at a Winter Olympics in 2022 in Beijing, China. Photo of Susan Trần|
Under her belt are gold, silver and bronze medals from the Korea Cup International and Open Asian Championships.
"Trang has the natural racing talent that involves loving speed," An told Việt Nam News.
"Bobsleigh athletes must possess absolute courage to conquer their fears. She is a courageous woman. Her drive to learn and her determination to win is unmatched."
Trang kicked off her campaign for a berth in the Beijing Olympics, participating in various events around the world and finished in the top 10 in several different competitions.
Unfortunately, when the opportunity was at hand, she tested positive for COVID and had to withdraw at the final stage of the Women’s Monobob World Series 2022 at the Winterberg racetrack in Germany.
Had she been able to complete the event, she would have gone to the Beijing Olympics. The opportunity, which was wide open, was suddenly lost.
“I was so close to the Olympics, only to see it slip away. I regretted it and was disappointed in myself. But I will not give up," she said.
"My teammates and I will work hard and take part in World Cup tournaments where we can collect enough points for the 2026 Olympics in Milan."
|DETERMINED: Trang will not give up to make her Olympics dreams come true at the Milan Games in 2026. Photo of the athlete|
"It will be a great honour if I become the first Vietnamese to qualify for the Winter Olympics. It is a strong force that pushes me every day. I want our Vietnamese flag to fly high at the Olympics."
Asked about Trang's ability, An said: "As a bobsleigh athlete, I know she can compete with the best bobsleighers in the world given adequate support and training. The best indication is that she is still with us and produces results that any coach would be happy with. She is a future Olympian."
He said that all she needed to do from here on for the next two racing seasons was to participate in 16 Asia Cup races and eight North America Cup races to qualify for the 2026 Winter Olympics.
"I am strongly confident that she will be able to accumulate more than enough points to qualify for the next Winter Olympics," he said. VNS