|Trần Đình Thắng competes in the men's over-89kg class at the 32nd SEA Games in May in Cambodia. He wins a gold medal in his first time at the regional sport meet. Photo zing.vn|
Weightlifter Trần Đình Thắng is living in the dream after becoming one of the most successful Vietnamese athletes at the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia and being honoured as one of Hải Dương Province's outstanding citizens, all within a month.
Thắng made history as the first heavyweight lifter of Việt Nam to win a regional sports title. More than that, he made an incredible performance, coming from behind to take the top podium while setting up two records.
"I kept my words to myself that I would be in the top three at this SEA Games," Thắng said.
"I also completed my promise with my coach Nguyễn Thị Thiết and my province that I would bring home a medal. I am delighted with the gold result."
Thắng was discovered as a potential athlete at a provincial school sport tournament when he was 14 in 2013.
Coach Thiết, a former SEA Games champion, could not take her eyes off Thắng when he was competing.
She saw his powerful physique, strength and strong mind during his performance, and decided to recruit him to the Hải Dương team.
After three years under Thiết, a national weightlifting icon, Thắng had dominated all local championships from junior to senior level in the heaviest weights of 96-102kg.
The first milestone was a gold in the national championship in 2017 when he also made his name in the top three at the Asian junior championship.
At the National Sports Games (NSG) in 2018 he bagged two golds and one silver.
Two years later, he not only won golds but also set records at the national championship. More golds and records came at the national championship and national clubs championship in 2021.
The juggernaut's march to the top was relentless. At the latest national event of the NSG in late 2022, Thắng was an undefeated competitor with three golds and three records in his class.
The result made him a member of Việt Nam's 32nd SEA Games team. And he was forced to lose weight to compete in the 89kg, the heaviest class available in Cambodia.
It was the first time that Thắng had a chance to show his talent regionally after not being named at the 31st Games in Việt Nam because his class was not organised.
Thắng was not given any target despite his potential, as Việt Nam had never competed in such a heavy category before. His current head coach Lưu Văn Thắng made the heaviest class of 85kg in the 2005 SEA Games and could only bring home a bronze.
The athlete's best memory is now from May 16 at the National Sports Complex in Phnom Penh.
|Trần Đình Thắng seen in a training session in Hà Nội in preparation for the SEA Games. He has to lose nearly 10kg weight to take part in the men's over-89kg in Phnom Penh. VNA/VNS Photo|
Thắng and defending champion Rungsuriya Panya of Thailand were the two final athletes vying for the gold.
After the snatch, Panya temporarily topped the ranking with 155kg. Thắng was second with 5kg less. In the clean and jerk, Panya's best lift was 203kg. With his total of 358kg, the Thai strongly believed victory was imminent. It was better than the lift of 349kg that he made in Việt Nam in the 2021 Games when he won gold.
Panya even shouted loud, danced on the stage and celebrated with Marcus Rashford's famed 'temple point' reaction. He had lifted 12kg heavier than Thắng who lifted a total of 346kg after his first attempt of 196kg.
To ensure gold, Thắng had to add 13kg to his current weight, from 196g to 209kg in the second attempt. It looked an impossible task. His first lift was unsuccessful as Thắng could not raise the barbells above his head.
In his final attempt, he managed to lift it high under cheering from the coaching board. However, referees called a no-lift as two red lights were on.
Thắng and his coaches were worried. Seconds later an appeal card was sent to the referees who took several minutes to review Thắng's performance. They finally called his attempt a good lift.
When the centre referee gave the thumbs up for a successful appeal, Thắng jumped and hugged his coaches to celebrate his amazing SEA Games debut result.
Along with a historic gold of Việt Nam, Thắng, as his habit, set two records in the clean and jerk, and total.
"It was my lucky day. My Thai rival was really strong. It was a heartbreaking competition. But such a dramatic lift made my win more valuable," said Thắng who wore the flag and chanted 'Việt Nam' when he stepped on the top podium.
Hungry for success
Speaking about her athlete, coach Thiết said Thắng was a determined lifter who left his coaches and teammates full of admiration for his industriousness and effort.
For his love of weightlifting, Thắng was ready to practise without salary in his first months in the team.
|Trần Đình Thắng (centre) celebrates his first SEA Games top place, beating defending champion Rungsuriya Panya of Thailand (left) in a dramatic competition. VNS Photo Hiếu Lương|
With little allowance, he often trained on an empty belly. Once, Thắng was so hungry, he didn't dare to speak, so he fainted, causing Thiết and others to panic and take him to the medical centre.
When he won national championship titles, he had a salary, but it was not enough for his daily life or functional foods and supplements for a heavyweight lifter.
Thắng used to work as a gym trainer and a delivery guy to earn more money to support his family. However, due to his training schedule, Thắng did not meet the company's quota, so was fired.
"His will and energy are unquestionable. Thắng has the advantages of strong fitness, good technique and a strong sense of willpower," Thiết said.
"But he also has a disadvantage of many money worries. Worrying about how to earn enough for his daily life affects his concentration. I believe that if he received better support, he would spend all time practising, and his results would be much better in the future."
At the honouring ceremony of his province a couple of weeks after the Games, Thắng was all smiles but stayed humble.
"It was my coaches' labour. Without them, I could not reach such a high result. I still have many weaknesses and I will have to work harder to be better," he said. VNS