|Trịnh Công Luận competes in the men's T56 javelin event during the 12th Para Games on June 6 in Phnom Penh. Cambodia. He well defended his title and became the oldest champion of Việt Nam delegation. VNS Photo|
While warming up a few hours before the Para Games began in Cambodia, Si Thu Htet predicted the javelin champion.
"I assure you, that man is the winner. I will be the runner-up behind him," said the Burmese athlete, casually pointing to his Vietnamese arch-rival Trịnh Công Luận.
He wasn't wrong. Luận defended his title with a throw of 24.49m, with Si second on 20.02m.
Aged 50, Luận became the oldest champion of the Việt Nam delegation at the 12th Para Games in Cambodia in early June.
In addition to the javelin gold, he also won the discus throw and bagged a bronze in the shot put
His performance left Si, other competitors and reporters gasping, leaving little doubt that Luận would be the title favourite at the next Games, despite his advanced years.
30 years winning
Luận suffered paralysed legs after polio fever when he was just 11-months-old and living in Cà Mau Province.
In 1990, the 18-year-old arrived in HCM City for college and started training in sport to help him be healthier and to confidently integrate into the community.
He was one of the first competitors in the national sport championship for athletes with disabilities in 1992. Since his first sport tournament, he has consistently made his mark with medals every year in both local and international competitions.
"My initial target was to practise sport to improve my health, which is important to everyone, especially a person with a disability like me," said Luận.
|Trịnh Công Luận poses with the national flag and the Para Games mascot after winning the men's T56 discus throw event during the 12th Para Games on June 7 in Phnom Penh. Cambodia. Photo courtesy of Trịnh Công Luận|
"But then, sport became my passion. I practise for the highest results for me and for Việt Nam when competing abroad."
After graduation, Luận worked as an art designer and technician in a sport's newspaper, but kept his habit of practising and competing.
After working, he drove his wheelchair to the field, and warmed up before seating himself on a special throwing frame.
He tried his best to have the longest throws in the javelin and shot put, and found happiness spending hours throwing and picking them up again and again and again.
His love for sport was so big, he decided to quit his job at the newspaper to be a full-time athlete. It would be one of the most difficult decisions of his life because he would have little money for daily life.
As an athlete with a disability, he did not have a salary. The only source of income was from his high results at tournaments. A defeat meant that he would have no money at all. Perhaps this is why he won so often.
It was a challenge but also a push for Luận who dominated local tournaments and became a regular name for the Việt Nam team in international events.
Under his belt are 17 golds from the regional Para Games, including two from the Phnom Penh event; a silver from the 2010 Asian Games and the regional championship; and a FESPIC Games record of 9.60m in the shot put in 2006.
"There is no salary policy yet for athletes with disabilities. But I am lucky winning high results from all competitions, so I can manage my life. Otherwise, things would be really hard," said Luận who is one of a tiny number of full-time athletes with disabilities.
After more than 30 years of hard work, he found a woman who loved and wanted to live with him, and saved enough money from bonuses to buy and build a house for his family.
Giant of the sport
"He has been competing for more than 30 years and has never returned home empty-handed. He won gold medals in every Para Games that he has participated in, an incredible achievement," said coach Đặng Văn Phúc.
"He is an industrious and patient athlete who is a symbol in sport for all disabled people. He inspires people to practise and achieve success."
Prior to the 12th Para Games in Cambodia, responding to friends' wishes for victory, Luận believed that he would win gold. It was only a matter of how many golds, and if he could set a record in each of his three events.
|The mascots with medals that Trịnh Công Luận earned from the games in Cambodia. He championed in the javelin and discus throw while standing third in shot put. Photo courtesy of Trịnh Công Luận|
"I strictly follow my coaches' exercises and instructions, which helps me give my best performance. I am just afraid of getting injured before tournaments. It will be a waste of all of my efforts and blow away my income," he said.
"I never give up. People can walk a long road, so can I. I just need a little longer to get it done. I have told myself to keep going until I reach my target. Medals make all my labours worth it.
"Another goal is to push the confidence of people with disabilities. I hope they can see that their disabilities should never prevent them from practising sport and achieving success." VNS