Viet Nam News
By Khiếu Thanh Hà
“I wanted to be a samurai. A sword would make me look like them,” Đỗ Thị Anh said when asked why she had taken up fencing.
Anh first learned about fencing from Ore Wa Teppei (I Am Teppei), a Japanese comic about a little boy brought up by his father in the mountains. The energetic Teppei was tough and acted as free as a bird. His life changed completely when he started attending school, where he was soon recognised for his talent in sports, especially his bokken (wooden sword) skills.
While practising bokken, the players had to wear armour that looked like that of a samurai.
“I loved Teppei and wanted to be like him as well as a samurai,” Anh said. “But I could not find a bokken club. So when fencing scouts came to my school for recruitment, I immediately agreed.”
This was in 2011 and Anh was 15 years old.
Five years later, she is one of Việt Nam’s 23 fencers who will compete at the upcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil next month.
Those who want to become fencers must have certain qualities, such as good height, long arm span and rapid reflexes. Anh meets all these requirements.
Her only challenge was to persuade her parents to let her follow a sporting career.
“I was a good student throughout. I regretted it a little bit when I decided to quit studies, while my parents strongly objected. They said sports would not bring me anything and asked me to focus on studies,” Anh said.
“In the first few months, I spent just a short time at the fencing club when I was free. When I started making progress in training and competing, I decided to dedicate all my time to fencing, and my parents did not stop me anymore,” she said.
“We selected a number of players, but many of them quit because of different reasons,” said coach Nguyễn Tiến Việt, who guided Anh in her first fencing lesson. “Anh was one of those who stayed with us. She was a special player who was always enthusiastic and put her whole heart into fencing.”
The Hanoian girl needed only two years to get the national team coach to notice her after winning 12 national junior championship titles and a gold medal at the national championship in the foil event in 2013. She soon joined the national team.
Since then, she has won several medals at local and international competitions.
Anh has dominated in the Southeast Asian region for the last three years. She claimed a silver medal at her Southeast Asian Games debut in Singapore last year.
“Đỗ Thị Anh is a girl of firm stuff. She is really professional while training and competing,” said Nguyễn Lê Bá Quang, head coach of the national fencing team.
“She is hard-working and patient. These virtues make her a real fencer. But she is still young and her technique is not as perfect as required. So she needs more time to practise, and also needs experts to sharpen her skills and support from sport leaders to shine,” Quang said.
Anh was selected to take part in an Olympic qualifying round, the Asia/Oceania zonal event in Wuxi, China, in April, even though she was not the national champion.
“I don’t know, but it seemed that I was chosen because I am young and I have more potential than others,” Anh said. “And of course, it also depends on the opinions of coaches and experts. They see something in me.”
The 20-year-old must be the luckiest player to qualify for the Olympics.
Anh competed at the qualifier only for more experience for future competitions. But she performed better than anyone could imagine, making it to the semi-final round.
Anh’s fourth rank was considered to be her greatest success, according to her coach, and the whole team was pleased to return home, with three of Anh’s senior teammates qualifying for the Olympics.
News of her qualification came about two months later, when the International Fencing Federation (FIE) confirmed her selection in their official release.
FIE said Anh lost to Yuan Ping of New Zealand, who then finished second in the women’s foil event. However, the former Commonwealth champion did not qualify for the Olympics because she was not chosen by the New Zealand Olympic Committee, as they were not convinced she would make it to the last 16.
The FIE notified Việt Nam that Anh had been pushed up to the third position to take Ping’s place.
She is the fourth fencer to make it to the team, with the others being Nguyễn Thị Như Hoa (women’s epee), Nguyễn Thành An (men’s sabre) and Nguyễn Thị Lệ Dung (women’s sabre).
“She is our treasure,” said coach Phạm Anh Tuấn, manager of the Hà Nội Fencing Club.
“Anh is a young player who will receive our strong support in the long term to shine in the future. Previously, she was not expected to participate in this year’s Olympics. According to our plan, she was to play at the 2020 Games,” Tuấn said.
National head coach Quang also shared Tuấn’s opinion.
“Honestly, she is lucky to get this ticket, but we could not deny her efforts and determination. It is a good start for her,” Quang said.
“Anh is practising at Hà Nội Club, which is the best fencing centre in the country at present. If she receives more support for international training and competitions from well-known experts, she could become a world-class player,” he said.
Asked if Anh had set any target for this Olympics, Tuấn said, “No, there is no pressure on her. What she needs to do is play her best, letting the world know about Việt Nam’s fencing. But she could get lucky again and spring a surprise.”
Anh is confident about her performance at the Olympics.
“I do not worry at all. I do not care how strong my rivals are, they are the ones to defeat. Olympics is just a larger competition. I may not win a single match, but I always try my best,” she said.
Anh will play 19-year-old Manila Calugareanu of Romania in the first qualifying round in Rio.
Women’s foil events will begin on August 10, five days after the opening ceremony. -- VNS