Coach Đinh Phương Thanh (centre, first row) and her boxers at the 30th Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines last year. — Photo webthethao.vn
It's fair to say coach Đinh Phương Thanh has experienced a lot in her boxing career, everything from gold glory to doping shame.
After about 16 years in and around the sport, Thanh has made many ‘firsts’ and the national head coach is looking for more challenges.
Thanh was one of the first female boxers in Việt Nam when the boxing department established in the country in 2004.
At that time, the Hanoian 16-year-old was practising the sanshou form of the martial art wushu and had no love for boxing.
“Sanshou allowed me to attack with both hands and feet, meanwhile in boxing, only hands were possible. I was so bored that I asked to return to the sanshou team but was refused,” said Thanh.
“It was really boring when you are doing what you don't like. It was even more terrible when you faced many injuries and losses in competitions that challenged your career. I wanted to quit many times.”
However, during nearly the first seven years in boxing, Thanh dominated with seven gold medals in her 60kg category.
“It is because of my competitiveness. I could not stand behind others who had the same training exercises and nutrition regime as me,” she said.
She was called up to the national team in 2005 and took part in the 23rd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in the Philippines where she secured a bronze.
Earlier in that year, Thanh was the first woman of Việt Nam to win a continental medal at the Asian championship in Chinese Taipei.
“It was my international debut. An 18-year-old in the ring with no experience, but with worry and fear. But I made it,” said Thanh.
“And that first push out to the world encouraged me and gave me more energy for better results.”
Shortly after her first taste of glory though, Thanh swiftly fell from grace.
At the 2007 Southeast Asian Games in Thailand, Thanh grabbed a bronze medal. However, she tested positive for a banned substance, her medal was rescinded and she was banned from boxing for two years.
“It was a shameful experience that I would never forget. It likes a ‘scar’ in my career,” said Thanh, who said she took the banned diuretic to cut her weight before competition.
“I asked to retire but my Hà Nội boxing team coaches and teammates encouraged me a lot, then I stayed with the team, trained harder and helped to coach the young athletes,” said Thanh.
She never returned to top-level competition and retired in 2011.
Coach Đinh Phương Thanh (right) trains with her athlete at the National Sports Training Centre in Hà Nội. — Photo webthethao.vn
Two years later, Thanh decided to get into coaching as she missed the sweet science so much.
She took part in courses for boxing management and received a certificate as an international coach to run the national junior women’s team, then the national women’s team.
Thanh was appointed head coach of the national men’s team in early 2019, making her the first and only woman to coach a men's boxing team in Asia.
“Yes, I am the sole one in the continent. It was not easy to make people believe in me in the first days because they did not think a woman could do a ‘man’s job’,” Thanh told Việt Nam News yesterday.
“But I worked really hard and seriously. I tried to learn from my senior and foreign colleagues and treat the athletes like a friend or a sibling.
“I also shared my experience of competing and doping with them to make sure that they would not make the same mistakes,” she said.
Under Thanh, Vietnamese male boxers won four golds and one silver at last December’s SEA Games in the Philippines.
And for the first time in history, her athlete Nguyễn Văn Đương secured a berth in the Tokyo Olympics early this month, marking a turning point for Việt Nam’s boxing.
“I was really confused at the time. It was happy, exciting, surprising and proud at the same time,” said Thanh about Đương’s 47-second knock-out of Thailand’s Chatchai-decha Butdee in the men’s featherweight category in a qualification tournament in Jordan.
“Butdee is a regional legend who beat Đương in all of their previous meets. But anyone has his own weakness and we did find it and punched on it to win.”
With the victory, Thanh will be the first Vietnamese boxing coach to take part in an Olympics although it has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have many things to do in the next year. Đương and I will have to work out an overall plan for that big event. He will have to train hard, fix his weaknesses and take part in international competitions. We will be very busy but I can’t wait for that challenge,” said Thanh. — VNS