PUTTING IN: Nguyễn Thị Phương Trinh in the Sunset Bay Triathlon 2020, where she finished second. — Photo courtesy of Nguyễn Thị Phương Trinh
By Thanh Nga
Following her bronze medal in the duathlon (run-bike-run) at the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in the Philippines in 2019, Nguyễn Thị Phương Trinh is aiming for a better colour at the 31st Games in Việt Nam this year.
“I’m so happy the triathlon and duathlon will be events at the SEA Games this year,” Trinh said. “I will do everything I can to win a place in the team and set my sights on a gold medal.”
The Vietnamese triathlon (swim-bike-run) and duathlon team debuted at the SEA Games at Subic Bay in the Philippines, with eight competitors. Though many countries have long developed the two events, Việt Nam sending a team to the Philippines was part of efforts to grow the sport locally.
The duathlon team included three athletes, with Trinh being the only woman. Her performance in the 10-km run, 40-km bike ride, and 5-km run was quite dramatic.
From sixth spot after the first leg, she moved up to second after the cycling and then finished third, after the winner, from the Philippines, and the runner-up from Thailand. The bronze was more precious than gold in a lot of ways, though, as an unforgettable memory for Trinh and the Vietnamese team as a whole.
Born in the Central Highlands’ Gia Lai Province, Trinh is best at cycling but is also a member of the athletics team of the Mekong Delta province of Hậu Giang and now training in HCM City for this year.
With athletics meets being held again after COVID-19, she took part in a range of different events to mix it up a little while still honing her skills.
She had a tough competitive schedule last October, taking part in the Sunset Bay Triathlon 2020 in the northern province of Quảng Ninh, where she tested her skills in the swim-bike-run and finished second, despite it not being her forte.
She acknowledged afterwards that swimming is her weak point, as the majority of her training is in cycling and running.
COMPETITIVE ENJOYMENT: Cycling is Trinh’s favourite sport and one where she excels. Photo courtesy of Nguyễn Thị Phương Trinh
Several days later, she headed to Hòa Bình Province with her Hậu Giang teammates for the National Cycling Championships. And she then competed in the HCM City Athletics Open, finishing fourth in the 5,000m and picking up bronze in the 1,500m.
Then, she won the women’s 10km at the Mekong Delta Marathon in Hậu Giang last November.
According to Dương Đức Thủy, head of the athletics department at the National Sports Administration, Trinh is tipped to win silver in the duathlon at this year’s SEA Games.
Triathlon is one of four sports (joining jujitsu, eSports and bowling) to be added to the competition programme for the Games in Việt Nam. The triathlon is, in reality, the hardest route to a gold medal for Viêt Nam, but it’s always a good thing when the host country isn’t favoured in an event but isn’t lacking in potential either.
With the addition of the four new sports, the Games in Việt Nam will have 40 in 520 categories. There will be a men’s and women’s triathlon and a men’s and women’s duathlon.
Countries actually proposed that more than 20 sports be added to the 31st SEA Games, including those where Việt Nam won gold in the Philippines, such as stick-wielding martial arts, in which it won four. The Philippines backed the addition, as stick-wielding martial arts have only been seen at the two Games it held, in 2005 and 2019.
Meanwhile, a sport where Việt Nam didn’t win gold at the last Games, and one where Trinh hopes to shine, was actually added. Triathlon has long been an Olympic sport but remains quite “new” in Việt Nam.
In the SEA Games in 2019, the Vietnamese triathlon team’s participation was supported by sponsorship from enterprises and individuals, not from state budgets. The team’s sole bronze, however, was a milestone in developing the sport in the country.
The triathlon is also a strength of the Philippines regionally-speaking, picking up two golds at the first-ever SEA Games to feature the sport, in Singapore in 2015. At home in the 30th Games, though not putting out its strongest team for myriad reasons, the Philippines still picked up four of the six golds on offer.
Local athletics insiders believe gold in Hà Nội this year will be a tall order for Việt Nam’s triathlon team. Even changing the colour of the medal from bronze to silver would be viewed as miraculous.
The odds of either of those two things happening has been made even more difficult by the fact that there are only four medals up for grabs in Hà Nội this year instead of the previous six.
The men’s and women’s relay, where Việt Nam is considered strong, have been cut. Only individual events are being held, so Vietnamese athletes will have to perform to maximum capacity to get on to the podium.
“I know the Games will be quite difficult,” Trinh said. “But every sport has its surprises. I’ll be training and competing my heart out.”
TWO STEPS UP: Trinh aims to change the medal colour from this bronze in the Philippines in 2019 to gold at this year’s 31st SEA Games in Việt Nam. Photo courtesy of Nguyễn Thị Phương Trinh
The triathlon being added to SEA Games 2021 and joining the duathlon is a good sign for the sport in Việt Nam.
“Having it added to the programme was a great effort by host Việt Nam,” said Thủy. “I hope our triathletes can compete well and show it was the right decision.”
The triathlon has developed fairly quickly in the country over recent years, with thousands of entrants in every competition.
The Việt Nam Triathlon Federation (VTF) is being established on the back of the burgeoning interest. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism officially recognised its campaign board in early last December; a major step towards its official launch.
Once founded, the VTF will be further confirmation of the richness and diversity of sports in Việt Nam, as well as the rising popularity of Olympic events such as the triathlon. — VNS