|Nguyễn Thúy Hiền takes part in the women's 100m freestyle event at the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia in May. She takes a bronze in her Games debut. — Photo danviet.vn|
There is no doubt Nguyễn Thúy Hiền is a top-tier swimming talent after shining at the recent SEA Games. She did not win gold but impressed rivals with her strong performance.
Hiền was just 13 when she took part in the regional sports meet. On May 8, she set a record of being the youngest Vietnamese ever to bag a medal at a SEA Games after taking a bronze in the women's 100m freestyle in Phnom Penh.
Her debut at the Games was not only a dream for herself, but also Việt Nam's swimming community after legend Nguyễn Thị Ánh Viên retired in 2021.
Hiền surprised her rivals when she walked out to the pool. She was not only the smallest but also the youngest swimmer among hundreds at the Morodok Techo National Stadium's Aquatic Centre.
But her efforts in the water were fantastic.
She topped the women's 100m freestyle heat before finishing third in the final, just behind defending champion Quah Ting Wen of Singapore and veteran Jasmine Alkhaldi of the Philippines.
The 1.75m Quah, who took her 28th gold after nine SEA Games, could not believe her eyes when 1.49m Hiền made the top three.
She even gestured with her fingers to playfully check if Hiền was really only 13 years old.
“Watching her walk out to the blocks, I got a bit emotional," said 31-year-old Quah.
"It brought me back to my first Games in Manila in 2005. That was the beginning for me and now to watch these younger kids begin their own careers, it’s heart-warming. She’s cute as well. Did you see the whole field? We’re like all at least a head taller than her.”
|Việt Nam's youngest athlete Nguyễn Thúy Hiền competes in eight categories at the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia in May. — Photo danviet.vn|
The Singaporean swimming legend congratulated the teenager and believes that Hiền will progress strongly in the future when her physique is fully developed. If she can maintain her progress, she could even win gold in the next two years.
Quah added that time would tell if Hiền could be as successful as legend Viên of Việt Nam and suggested people give her as much support as possible.
Meanwhile, Hiền said: "It was an unexpected medal. I was nervous because it was my first time here. I was not set any target, but my coach asked me to swim my best."
Hiền was born in 2009 in Hoa Lư District in the northern province of Ninh Bình, and has been swimming for nearly five years.
She made a big bang at the National Sports Games in 2018 when she won four golds and five silvers. She set up a new national record of 26.59sec in the 50m freestyle. The old record of 26.70 was set by her idol Viên in 2014.
She was then picked for the national team and was one of the main athletes to receive strong support for international competitions.
Due to her young age, coaches do not want to release much information about her, to protect her development. But they have confirmed that her ability is second to none.
|Nguyễn Thúy Hiền celebrates her 32nd SEA Games 100m freestyle bronze medal. She is expected to win gold in the 33rd Games in 2025 in Thailand. — Photo baoninhbinh.org.vn|
Coach Richard Piper of Indonesia agreed with his Vietnamese colleagues, saying that he would also not let the teen be distracted. Let her focus on swimming and she will be a superstar in the future, he added.
After the SEA Games, Hiền shone at the National Age Groups Swimming Championship with seven golds in both individual and team events late May.
She is now practising for her long-term plan, in which she wants to win more medals at the 33rd Games in 2025 in Thailand.
"I want to be like Viên. She won many golds but keeps working hard, being modest and disciplined and never giving up," said Hiền.
Viên is the best Vietnamese swimmer ever, winning 25 SEA Games titles along with many medals at the Asian Games and World Cup.
After her retirement, Việt Nam did not win any gold in the women's category at the 31st and 32nd Games.
Viên has also watched Hiền in competitions and is happy that she has such a talented successor. She expected Hiền will have a chance to grow comfortably so that she can fulfil her potential.
"I hope that Hiền will work hard for her target, but we should not put high pressure on her. Let her swim naturally as it is what she loves to do," Viên said. — VNS