|Wrestling win: Nguyen Thi Lua of Viet Nam seen during the 27th SEAGames tournament when competing against Heka Maya of Indonesia in the women's 51kg category free style. Lua wins her first ever title after three times missed. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Ha
by Thanh Ha
It took Nguyen Thi Lua only 30 seconds to win her dream gold medal at the Southeast Asian (SEA) games, after waiting six long years.
The Southeast Asian title was the most emotional milestone in her life. The gold medal is also a strong push for the wrestler, who will represent Viet Nam at the 17th Asian Games later this year in South Korea.
Lua came to the wresting ring and waited for the judge's signal to start the game before she rushed at her rival from Myanmar. The electronic board ran from zero to seven points in a flash, and the Vietnamese athlete was announced the winner of the women's 51kg category free style in Myanmar, last December.
All the coaches and teammates came forward to hug Lua and celebrate her victory. They were happy because Lua, the nation's top athlete, had finally become a champion at the SEA Games as a result of investing her blood, sweat, and tears into training.
In Viet Nam, some athletes are ranked among the world's and Europe's champions, but they have never tasted glory at the SEA Games.
Badminton player Nguyen Tien Minh is one such example. He has been ranked among the world's top 10 players for many years but has never won at the region's largest sports festival.
Weightlifter Hoang Anh Tuan had won a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics, and his best position at the regional event was second place.
Lua was also considered to be part of this group before the Nay Pyi Taw tournament.
The wrestler from Ha Noi has featured in the top rankings for three different events, including the Asian championships and the Asian Games.
The 16-year-old Lua was on Viet Nam's team at the 2007 SEA Games but did not compete in a single match since she was too young to qualify.
Two years later, Lua, who had won a silver and a bronze medal at other events, could not participate in the SEA Games yet again because all her rivals in the 48kg category withdrew when they saw her name on the list of participants.
The favourite for the title had to stay on the sidelines as a result of her event being cancelled.
In 2011, Lua suffered even more disappointment. The ASIAD silver medalist trained hard the whole year and was ready for the competition when she heard that her category was being dropped from the competition schedule.
Images of the crying girl were repeatedly broadcast by the local media, and national fans, coaches and teammates shared her sorrow.
"I had trained hard and hoped to take part in the event. Bang! They cut it. Who could stay calm in such a situation? Who would not feel disappointed?" Lua asked.
Born in Yen Noi Village in Quoc Oai District, which is known as the country's wrestling hub, Lua received strong support from her family. Her father and one of her uncles are both well-known wrestlers.
She started training in 2002 at the age of 12 and, five years later, became a national champion.
Sports, especially wrestling, have never been easy for women. Many of her teammates could not overcome the hardships and difficulties. Lua is one of the rare athletes of her generation who remained true to wrestling.
She remarked that as a woman, she also wanted smooth skin without scars and grazes. "It was impossible," said Lua, admitting that she had numerous injuries including losing in love.
However, she affirmed that she would tirelessly follow wrestling.
Her determination is reflected in her performance.
People always saw a determined and competitive wrestler but never knew Lua had stepped into the ring even while sick. At the Guangzhou ASIAD, Lua won a silver medal, while at the 2012 London Olympics, she was disqualified in the first round because of a shoulder injury. She had to be hospitalised immediately when she flew home.
On December 12, Lua's efforts bore fruit. She won a top spot on the podium, even though she had just recovered from an injury a few weeks before the SEA Games and had to have her right knee restricted by a plaster cast for a month leading up to the event.
This time, the Vietnamese coaches decided to let Lua compete in the 51kg class, though she had never won a single medal in this category before.
Training was hard for her. Training for a strange weight category was even harder. However, she quickly adjusted to the new conditions and took it upon herself to be a title candidate of the class.
Despite being a new participant in this category, Lua faced no hardships during the tournament. Except for time spent with a rival from Laos who quit early, Lua took only two minutes to eliminate her opponents and achieve her dream.
The recent Tet holiday was the most memorable Lunar new Year of her career. With ample cash at her disposal, Lua for the first time in her life shopped for Tet items for her family. Also, she was allowed to stay and enjoy a long holiday at home.
"It was my happiest Tet ever. I have not shared this moment with (my family) for many years. I am always busy with training and competitions all year round. This year, I enjoyed every minute with them," Lua said.
The Vietnamese Olympian noted that winning the SEA Games title meant that she had achieved one of her dreams.
"Now, I will focus on changing the colour of my medal at the coming ASIAD," Lua said. — VNS