Duyên finswims to glory

June 04, 2023 - 08:13
At the recent 32nd Games in Cambodia, Cao Thị Duyên not only won more golds but also set several records in finswimming.


Cao Thị Duyên celebrates her gold during the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia in May. Duyên secures three golds, two silvers and set up two records at the regional sport meet. Photo baothanhhoa.vn

Thanh Hà

When Cao Thị Duyên and her coach arrived home in Én Village, her tiny house was full of villagers who had come to welcome and honour their new champion.

It was the second SEA Games that Duyên had topped the podium. But it was more special this time as she had not only won more golds but also set several records in finswimming.

The girl showed the three golds and two silvers to her supporters before hanging them on the wall alongside countless silverware, making her the pride of not only the village but also of Thanh Hóa Province.

“I tried my hardest for these titles. I am so proud to be a Vietnamese representative on top of the podium," said Duyên.

Talented finswimmer

Born in 2001, and growing up next to Én Lake, Duyên has always been familiar with water and loved swimming since she was small.

Traditionally, Mường ethnic minority girls become farmers if their academic studies do not go far, but Duyên has swum her way to success.

As a 10-year-old, she won an event in the province in 2011 and was recruited to be a swimmer at the Thanh Hóa Sport Training Centre.

Cao Thị Duyên competes at the 31st SEA Games last year. She wins twice with two records on home ground. — VNA/VNS Photo

"She was small and had no idea how to take care of herself. But she loved swimming and wanted to join the team. We worried a lot but encouraged her to try her best. It was an opportunity for her to have a better life. Otherwise, she would have faced hardship at home," said Cao Thị Quang, Duyên's mother.

Duyên said: "I was small at the time and could not think much. I just wanted to go out of the village and see the world outside. I have to thank myself for that decision. I developed well as I was brave and curious to find a new world." 

Living with her passion for four years, Duyên's dream was halted when because she was diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B, and didn't have the strength to swim at her peak. She was in danger of being sent back home, until she met with finswimming coach Phạm Tuấn Anh, which proved a milestone in her life.

"I asked her to take on the mono fins for a test. Watching Duyên, I found that she was not only suitable for finswimming but had some outstanding characteristics compared to my other athletes," said Anh who decided to try her out in the new sport supported with snorkel and fins.

Two months after her switch, Duyên won two golds and one silver and set up two records at the 2015 national age-group finswimming championship.

Since then, she has made her mark in many local and international competitions, including the national tournament and Asian youth championship.

In 2022, at the national championship she won two golds, and then grabbed a record at her 31st SEA Games debut before dominating the National Sports Games with three golds, three silvers and two more records.

Cao Thị Duyên (right) and teammates pose for photos after they win in the women's 4x200m surface event in the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia in May. — VNA/VNS Photo 

At the recent 32nd Games in Cambodia, Duyên competed in five categories and was on the podium in all.

Together with teammates, she won the 4x50m surface relay, 4x100m surface relay and 4x200m surface relay. In individual events, she finished second in the 50m surface and 100m surface.

Coach Anh said it was a remarkable result that helped Việt Nam remain the best team in the region. However, he believes Duyên can do better.

"If she can swim as well as she does during practice, she will take golds in individual categories, especially the 100m surface. She was only 0.02sec slower than the winner," Anh said.

Bright future

Returning home with five medals, Duyên also set a new record for her home town; it was the best SEA Games result for a Thanh Hóa Province athlete in history.

Cao Thị Duyên and her medal collection. — Photo qdnd.vn

She was honoured as one of the best athletes in the province and invited to President Võ Văn Thưởng's reception of over 100 outstanding SEA Games athletes and coaches on May 23 in Hà Nội.

During the meeting, Duyên received a third-class Labour Order for her excellent performance. She said the distinction would be a present for all her family members, especially her grandmother.

“Grandma should receive a present first because she taught me to swim. Without her, I wouldn't have been champion," she said.

"I have lived far from home for 12 years. Although I did not receive my parents' care, I had comfortable conditions at the training centre. I am heartbroken seeing my parents living in a run-down house.

"Poverty is a motivation for me to practise hard. My cash bonuses from the Games will be used to build a new home for my family. I will save a place to hang my medals."

After several days with her parents, Duyên is back in Hà Nội, training for several tough tournaments in the next few months.

"Her SEA Games is complete, but she has no time to rest. Professional sport is harsh. She has to practise regularly to conquer new heights," said Anh.

In October Duyên will compete in the National Finswimming Championship, which is as tough as the SEA Games as Việt Nam is home to many finswimmers who have dominated regional and continental competitions for years.

Cao Thị Duyên expects to have cash bonus to build a new house for her family. — Photo  thethaovanhoa.vn

Her next event will be the Asian championship in November in Thailand.

"It is a pity that finswimming is not a sport in the Asian Games and Olympics. I hope that it will be approved in the near future, so my athletes will have the chance to show their talents in bigger competitions," Anh said. VNS