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Phuong is new face of Vietnamese canoeing

Update: February, 07/2016 - 08:00

Truong Thi Phuong is rewriting the story of Vietnamese canoeing. — Photos

Sixteen-year-old Truong Thi Phuong is scripting a new story for Vietnamese sport in canoeing.

She is the youngest Vietnamese to win the gold medal in a regional sporting festival and the first Vietnamese to win a canoeing gold medal in a continental tournament.

At the 28th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Singapore last June, the San Diu ethnic girl won an unprecedented number of gold medals for the canoeing team. The training board had not hoped for Phuong to win a gold medal because she lacked experience to compete in the international event.

So her gold medal was not part of the Viet Nam canoeing team's plan at the largest regional sporting festival.

Phuong took the lead in the women's C1-200m final. She was the fastest racer, clocking a time of 51.456 seconds, nearly two seconds faster than the Thai silver medallist Thiangkathok Orasa.

After reaching the finishing line, she was very happy and fell into the water, making reporters even think that she couldn't swim.

"For me, falling is a very normal thing in training and competing," Phuong said.

The most memorable moment of her life was standing on the medal podium at 28th Games in Singapore, she said.

At the 2015 Asian Canoeing Championships in Indonesia last November, which acted as the Rio 2016 Olympic Games qualifiers, Phuong competed in the female C1 500m finals and won the gold medal, the first continental gold medal in the history of Vietnamese canoeing.

The Vinh Phuc native also set a record, becoming the youngest athlete of the tournament to be awarded with a gold medal.

The C1 500m champion will compete at the Asian Games in Indonesia in 2018 and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, but unfortunately missed out on securing a place at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Hard childhood

Truong Thi Phuong (right) competing at the 28th Southeast Asian Games in Singapore last June.

Phuong was the youngest child of a poor agricultural family in Trung Mau Village in Binh Xuyen District's Trung My Commune in the northern Vinh Phuc Province.

"When she was small, we often left Phuong at home to go to the forest to collect firewood. When she was four years old, she accompanied us to sell litchi. After she turned nine, she often went to the forest to collect bamboo shoots. She can do everything in the house from cooking to cultivating rice," Phuong's mother Pho Thi Hai said.

Phuong was chosen as a professional athlete for her province when she was studying in class 8 in Trung My Junior High School in 2012, because of her strength and stature.

She wanted to learn Vietnamese martial arts, but her parents didn't agree and then she was selected for the canoeing team by Coach Luu Van Hoan.

Since then, she has both trained and learned the sport at the provincial sports training centre in Vinh Yen City, which is about 20km from her house.

"Compared to Phuong's friends of the same age, she is better in terms of body and strength. She trained very hard to meet my demands," Hoan said.

"She always sets her target and never has to be told. She forgets herself in training and competing to achieve her goal," Hoan said.

Phuong's father Truong Hoang Quan used to come to pick her up on a cycle in the weekend, but as Phuong's schedules became tighter, she went home less often.

"Being far from home, Phuong loved her parents even more as she grew up," Hai said.

"I was homesick initially, but I soon got accustomed to the new environment because I had many new friends," Phuong said.

Phuong's friends in the canoeing team of Vinh Phuc also said she preferred doing things to saying anything.

"She is never afraid of her rivals. She only knows to try her best at the start of her competition. She has an unyieldingness that not many athletes have," Phuong's teammate Nguyen Duc Duy said.

After two years of training, Phuong was selected for the national team to compete in the Southeast Asian Canoeing Championships held in Singapore in 2014. She brought home a gold medal.

She also won five gold medals at the National Sports Games in 2014, and four gold medals and three silver medals at the national junior canoeing event.

"Vinh Phuc began training in and developing canoeing as a sport in 2012. Phuong figures among the first-class athletes. I hope her achievements will promote canoeing in the province," Vu Manh Hong, manager of the Elite Sport Desk of the provincial department of culture, sports and tourism, said. — VNS

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