Hương makes history as Việt Nam's Olympic canoeist

May 12, 2024 - 07:43
Nguyễn Thị Hương has made a historic milestone that previous coaches and retired and senior teammates could not do over many decades.


Nguyễn Thị Hương with the national flag on the second podium of the women's C1 200m event at the 2024 Asian Canoe Sprint Championships on April 21 in Japan. Photo courtesy of Việt Nam Sports Team

Thanh Hà

Since she joined the sport community, Nguyễn Thị Hương has left many amazed at her talent and astonished by what she has achieved. The athlete has just made another splash, by bagging Việt Nam's first-ever Olympic spot in canoeing.

Hương has made a historic milestone that previous coaches and retired and senior teammates could not do over many decades.

She will be the first and the only canoeing representative of Việt Nam to vie for a medal at the world's greatest sports event, the Paris Olympics this summer.

“Honestly, I only focused on how to paddle rapidly following coaches' instruction," Hương told Việt Nam News.

"When I crossed the finish line and knew I had earned an Olympic spot. I was so happy and surprised. Actually, I dreamed about the ticket, but I didn't think I could make it because all my rivals were very strong while Vietnamese canoeists have never achieved it in the past."

A sport talent

Hương, born in 2001, initially practised wrestling in her hometown in Vĩnh Phúc Province. After three years, the team was dismissed, leaving her totally distraught.

But it turned out to be a key turning point in her sport life, as three years later she became one of the best Vietnamese athletes with remarkable achievement.

Switching from a combat to a water sport meant that Hương had to get rid of what she learnt to absorb new knowledge and techniques.

Joining the new team, Hương suffered many challenges. Her short height and arms were minus points in canoeing, and she did not even know how to swim, a requirement of every canoeist.

Nguyễn Thị Hương at the 31st SEA Games in Việt Nam She won five golds to be one of the most successful athletes of the tournament. VNS Photo Minh Đức

The quiet paddler first made waves as an unknown in the region when she took the top podium at the 31st SEA Games' five times in the individual, pair and team categories in her debut. It was the best result of Việt Nam internationally, while Hường became the nation's most titled canoeist.

A year later, at the 32nd Games, Hương made another surprise when she won three golds in dragonboat racing.

It made her the best athlete of Việt Nam at the regional sporting games, and she received the President's second-class Labour Order.

"Hương has especially good speed and can deliver difficult techniques that push her canoe very fast on the water," coach Lưu Văn Hoàn said.

"Since her first day with canoeing, she has shown great progress that surprised us because we saw her get better and better every week."

Coach Nguyễn Việt Phương who persuaded Hương's family to allow her to practise wrestling and then canoeing, appreciates his athlete for her industriousness and patience.

“Hương followed our instructions well and practised hard. She also spent extra hours after each training session to sharpen her skills and improve her fitness. She knew that she did not have the good quality for a canoeist like teammates, so she had to work harder to make up for it," Phương said.

Phương was happy that his athlete qualified for the Olympics and joked that Việt Nam's 'tallest' canoeist who stood 1.51m was the most successful one, as her Olympic ticket was the highest achievement for Việt Nam in the sport's history.


Two years after her successful SEA Games, Hương made the biggest surprise of her career, in Japan.

Competing in the women's C1 200m event at the 2024 Asian Canoe Sprint Championships, Hương dropped behind after the first 100m. It seemed not a big problem with her as she gradually caught up and secured second place with a time of 49.351sec, her new personal best.

Nguyễn Thị Hương was seen in action at the 19th Asian Games last year in China. VNS Photo Minh Đức

"I felt comfortable, and I was pressure-free at this tournament. My rivals from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and others were taller and bigger than me. They all had a good start," Hương said.

"There was a gap between us but looking around I found that I still had a chance. I paddled harder in the last 100m and narrowed the gap. Luckily, I was the second finisher, by about a tenth of a second.

"In canoeing, the weather conditions, the waves and the wind strongly affect our results. My time seemed not good but in the context of the high waves and strong wind, which reached 60km per hour in Japan, I did well."

She said each medal brought a different feeling for her and was a cornerstone of her career, but the Olympic ticket was special. It was a dream come true.

“I have had memorable results in many local and international tournaments, but this will be my first Olympics. I can't imagine how crowded and big it will be. Now, I am a representative of Việt Nam in this arena," she said.

Hương will take part in a continental tournament for U23 athletes in June in Thailand and the Southeast Asian Championship in July on home ground. These two events will be the final touches in her preparation for the Olympics this summer. VNS