|Athlete Khuất Phương Anh seen in a recent domestic tournament. — Photo courtesy of Khuất Phương Anh
At the Hà Nội-based National Sports Training Centre, Khuất Phương Anh is training hard to prepare for the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games to be held in Việt Nam later this year.
The 23-year-old aims to take a gold medal in the region's biggest sporting event after only gaining silver medals in the Games held in the Philippines in 2019 and Malaysia in 2017 in the women’s 800m.
“A gold medal in the SEA Games is my biggest desire at present. I have finished the period of training physical strength and turned to train skills for the upcoming events,” said Anh.
Anh will compete in the Tiền Phong (Vanguard) Newspaper Marathon in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai on March 28 in the 5km division to test her fitness and then she will take part in the Thống Nhất Speed Cup in HCM City in her favourite race of 800m next month.
Anh was born in 1997 in Phúc Thọ Town, Hà Nội. She started to train track and field in 2010 after her talent was discovered and joined the Hà Nội track and field team two years later. In 2014, she was called up to the national team.
Anh’s family didn't like the idea of her pursuing athletics instead of a more stable career, but with the encouragement of coach Nguyễn Hoàng An, she gave up the idea of returning home and was determined to become a professional athlete.
“The person who inspired me the most when I first started out in athletics was An. At that time, even at the age of 60, she still travelled more than 10km every day to be present at 5am to train, rain or shine. She was the driving force for me to continue my career. An was very passionate about her job and understood me,” said Anh.
Besides An, coach Vũ Thúy Nga also had a great influence on Anh's career. When Anh was training in the youth team, she often skipped the afternoon nap to play games, so she was scolded many times. But thanks to Nga’s sternness, the young athlete didn’t deviate from the path to success.
Anh's strong point now is 800m, but earlier, she competed in the 400m hurdles.
"Before that, I was a 400m hurdle athlete, but after joining the national team in 2016, I changed to compete in the 800m event because the 400m hurdles had very strong players such as Nguyễn Thị Huyền and Quách Thị Lan,” said Anh.
Despite this change, Anh quickly adapted to the new discipline.
|Khuất Phương Anh (left) competes at the National Athletics Championships in Hà Nội last year. — Photo courtesy of Khuất Phương Anh
The Hanoian athlete made an impressive debut, winning two gold medals at the 2016 Asian Youth Athletics Championship in the 400m individually and 400m relay. This helped Anh compete in the World Youth Athletics Championship 2016.
A year later, Anh was named in the Việt Nam national team to attend the first leg of the Asian Grand Prix in China. Although she only finished sixth in the 800m, she had shown progress and won a ticket to the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia.
In her first time at the regional sports festival, Anh won the silver medal in the 800m with a time of 2:09.5. Her teammate Vũ Thị Ly won the gold medal after clocking a time of 2:07.12.
At the National Sports Games in 2018, Hà Nội's athletics team had great success, winning both gold medals in the 800m event for men and women for the first time, with Anh defeating her senior Ly to take gold with a time of 2:05.89, breaking the tournament record.
At the Thailand Open Track & Field Championships 2018, she overcame many strong local athletes to win gold medals in the 800m and 1,500m to help Việt Nam win a total of four golds, two silvers and three bronzes at the tournament.
With her rapid progress, it was thought that Anh would earn a gold medal at the SEA Games in the Philippines in 2019. However, Anh once again finished second with a time of 2:08.24. The winner was the surprising face of the Vietnamese athletics team, Đinh Thị Bích with a time of 2:07.16.
Earlier Anh competed in the 400m and 400m hurdle so she admires the US' Allyson Felix who runs in the 100m, 200m and 400m, has competed in the Olympics many times and won many world-class awards.
“I like Felix for her personality and style of competing. She looks so cool and her steps of running are so beautiful,” said Anh.
For this reason, when Anh competes, she also prepares carefully with unique hairstyles and prominent outfits.
|Khuất Phương Anh seen after her competition. — Photo courtesy of Khuất Phương Anh
Chance to shine at home
The 31st SEA Games in Việt Nam this year will take place from November 21 to December 2, including 40 sports. In the two recent regional games, Việt Nam athletics has made a special mark.
At the 29th Games in 2017, for the first time in history, Vietnamese athletics surpassed Thailand to lead all teams. Việt Nam bagged 17 golds, while Thailand only earned nine.
Two years later, at the 30th Games in the Philippines, the Vietnamese athletics team once again excelled to lead with 16 golds.
With the top spot in the region, Việt Nam aim to win 17-19 gold medals to maintain their first place at home this year.
In 2020, due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vietnamese athletics couldn’t participate in any international tournaments to test their skills. Therefore, the 2020 National Athletics Championship last November was considered a review of the athletes preparing for the regional Games. Anh proved her strength in the 800m and also won a gold medal in the 4x400m relay and a silver medal in the 1,500m.
According to Dương Đức Thủy, head of athletics section of the National Sports Administration, to prepare for the upcoming Games, the administration will create the best conditions for athletes to train, try and financial resources to organise many domestic tournaments and send athletes to train and compete aboard when possible.
Anh and the Việt Nam track and field team are likely to have a difficult Games at home, with a big target on their back as favourites, but Anh has never been one to back down from a challenge. — VNS