No hurdle too high for golden girl Tiên

May 28, 2023 - 07:19
Huỳnh Thị Mỹ Tiên won gold in the women's 100m hurdles during the 32nd SEA Games in Phnom Penh.


FINE FORM: Huỳnh Thị Mỹ Tiên of Việt Nam (right) runs in the women's 100m hurdles during the 32nd SEA Games in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on May 10. Tiên wins a gold. VNA/VNS Photo

Thanh Hà

Huỳnh Thị Mỹ Tiên was exhausted as she crossed the finish line, breathing heavily at the end of a fierce race.

From the crowd a reporter shouted: "Gold, Tiên, you have a gold medal."

The runner burst into tears.

"I cried really hard on the spot. I couldn't believe my ears. I asked him again and again to make sure it was true," said Tiên.

Tiên finished first, just a hair's breadth ahead of the other runners in the women's 100m hurdles at the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia on May 10.

"It was an amazing result. I finally won a medal -- a gold -- after leaving empty-handed in the two previous Games," she said.

Running life

Born in 1999 in Vĩnh Long Province, Tiên was scouted from a school athletics tournament when she was 11.

"My fitness teacher sent me to the provincial sport training centre for further tests. Weeks later, I was recruited," Tiên said.

She did not receive support from her parents, who worried that she would have to work hard with heavy practice and that it would lead to nothing.

However, they eventually had to agree due to their daughter's determination. Their objection soon became great support and encouragement after Tiên earned her first positive results at the national championships.

In addition to her medals in local tournaments, Tiên also twice championed and set two records at the ASEAN School Games in 2016 and 2017.

She also won gold and made a record in the Southeast Asian Youth Athletics Championship in 2016.

VICTORIOUS: Huỳnh Thị Mỹ Tiên of Việt Nam celebrates her win in the women's 100m hurdles during the 32nd SEA Games in Phnom Penh. — VNA/VNS Photo

In 2018, Tiên's coach died from a serious disease, and she moved to Hà Nội, which proved a turning point. Under the new environment, living conditions and coaches, Tiên faced challenges adjusting to her new life.

"I began training with coach Nguyễn Văn Lợi. He is a dedicated trainer who takes care of everything for me, from practice to personal issues," said Tiên.

"He pushes me in training, encouraging and comforting me when I am tired, depressed and disappointed, or when I want to quit."

Under Lợi, Tiên reached new heights as she set the national youth record of 13.72sec in the 100m hurdles at the Asian U20 Athletics Championship in 2018 in Japan. The record is still the target to beat for Vietnamese junior runners.

She also topped the podium at the national championship in 2020 and 2021.

At the age of 20, Tiên became a member of the national team and took part in the 30th SEA Games in the Philippines and the 31st Games on home soil.

Despite her efforts, she did not have good result in the regional sports meets. In the Hà Nội Games, Tiên, the national champion and best hope of Việt Nam, finished last among eight competitors.

"I suffered injuries and was positive with COVID. My performance was strongly affected," said Tiên.

"I was luckier than many other athletes as I had the chance to compete in a SEA Games on home ground. It was the best memory for anyone. Although I was not in the top finishers, it was a valuable experience for me. It pushed me to work harder."

Tiên won the title at the Philippine Athletics Championships in March, leaving all rivals, including teammate and SEA Games defending champion Bùi Thị Nguyên, behind to top the podium in a time of 13.59sec.

"It was an important win for me as it was the first time I beat Nguyên in a major tournament in 2022. She won in the SEA Games selection event in March. She left me behind and won gold at the 31st Games in May and repeated her win at the National Sports Games in December," said Tiên.

"13.59sec was not my best result, but the win gave me more confidence heading into the 32nd SEA Games where Nguyên was my teammate and biggest rival."

Sweet, sweet gold

Tiên was in trouble with COVID-19 again, testing positive just weeks before the Cambodian Games.

PHOTO FINISH: Huỳnh Thị Mỹ Tiên of Việt Nam crosses the finish line a hair's breadth faster than other rivals in the women's 100m hurdles during the 32nd SEA Games. — VNA/VNS Photo

Luckily, it was her second time, her health was not strongly affected, and was able to train as normal.

At the Phnom Penh's Modorok Techo Stadium, Tiên was the second seed behind Nguyên after qualification.

Her good start and strong sprint pushed her to cross the finish line first in a time of 13.50sec, only 0.02sec faster than Nguyên in second place.

"It took me 12 years to run from zero to the peak of the SEA Games," said Tiên.

"I just wanted a medal, no matter what colour it was. It was to mark my strong effort for the third time. But a gold was unbelievable. I waited for this moment for a long time.

"My rivals were very fast, and I won as my shoulder crossed the finish line first. I might be a lucky runner, but it resulted from my hard work and determination."

Tiên and her coach had no time to rest and are already back in training for upcoming tournaments.

"I will have several training camps and events to sharpen up ahead of the 19th Asian Games in China in September. I hope to set my personal best and then seek a higher result." VNS