HÀ NỘI — It was wavy and windy when Trần Tấn Triệu looked around Subic Bay. Not an ideal day for a swim, but he still comfortably won the men’s 10km swimming at the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in the Philippines in December.
The 21-year-old, who was taking part in the event for the first time, easily won gold with a time of 1hr 53.31min, making him the first Vietnamese champion in the event.
His teammate Nguyễn Huy Hoàng came second, while Kittiya Tanakrit of Thailand was third.
“I swam following our coaches’ instructions that I learnt by heart. I really had no difficulty on the way to win this hard event,” said Triệu.
Triệu and Hoàng quickly left all rivals far behind and set a gap of nearly five minutes between the rest of the field.
Triệu’s gold was the 11th title for Vietnamese swimmers at the Games, making it the most successful tournament of the team in history.
Born in 1998 in the southern province of Long An, Triệu started swimming for fun with his school.
The fifth-grade boy quickly showed his skill was brought on to the provincial team.
After two years, he was moved to the National Sport Training Centre in HCM City where he won a number of titles in domestic tournaments for both juniors and seniors, including a gold in the men’s 800m freestyle event which saw him set a national record of 8min 11.64sec in 2016.
“It's a sweet memory because I beat the defending champion Lâm Quang Nhật and Nguyễn Huy Hoàng, who is the current national rising star with two Tokyo Olympic slots. The record was a great result although it was broken a long time ago,” said Triệu.
Apart from regular distances, Triệu also tested his skills in open water events in local tournaments and easily won top positions. He joined other international competitions before representing Viet Nam at the 2016 Asian Beach Games in Đà Nẵng. He grabbed a bronze in the 5km event, a milestone in his career.
The same year, Triệu was called up to the national team to compete at the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia. He and three teammates grabbed a silver in the men’s 4x200m freestyle relay, his first ever medal from the regional event.
However, after that silver, Triệu struggled to develop, so he left the HCM City centre to join the National Sports Training Centre in Cần Thơ City where he has been until now under coach Nguyễn Hoàng Vũ and Chinese expert Guohui Huang.
“We looked at his history and abilities and decided he was suitable for the open water event, which can be considered the toughest among aquatic sports,” coach Vũ told Việt Nam News.
Triệu, the only athlete who specialises in marathon swimming in Việt Nam, uses a special training programme to adapt to swimming in the open water.
“On the beach, athletes need to understand the waves, the water flow and the wind together with the weather conditions. It is totally different with swimming in the pool. Triệu only trains in the pool so we need special exercises. He is asked to swim while looking around. The way of breathing is also different,” said Vũ.
Triệu had only a few days to practise in open waters before the tournament.
“We have prepared for the Games for nearly a year. We surveyed our rivals and knew that only Indonesian Prawira Aflah Fadlan could compete us. However, Triệu gave him no chance during the race. This gold medal has been planned and the task is done,” said Vũ.
For many reasons, Việt Nam has hot organised open water events for several years but Triệu has no time to rest.
The coaching board and Triệu are targeting international events from mid-January to mid-June and hope he can grab a slot to compete at the summer Olympics in Tokyo.
“We will register him in the most suitable competitions. It is difficult, but we can hope, practice and do our best,” Vũ said. VNS
Trần Tấn Triệu and his bronze medal from the Asian Beach Games's 5km swim in 2016. Photo nld.com.vn