Việt Nam's Lường Thị Thảo (left) and Đinh Thị Hảo compete during the lightweight women's double sculls heat at the 2021 World Rowing Asia-Oceania Olympic and Paralympic Continental Qualifying Regatta in Tokyo on May 6. They finish second in the final and secure Olympic berth. — AFP/VNA Photo
HÀ NỘI — Planks, squats and push up. Exhaustion, sweat and boredom.
This is everyday life in the small hotel room in Hà Nội where Đinh Thị Hảo and Lường Thị Thảo are staying during their 21-day quarantine after returning home from an international tournament early this month.
The rowing duo secured Việt Nam's seventh Tokyo Olympics slot after finishing second in the World Rowing Asia and Oceania Olympic and Paralympic qualification regatta's women's lightweight double sculls which ended in Japan on May 7.
The cardio workouts are a way to help them stay in shape before returning to normal training and the start of their preparations for their first-ever Olympics this summer.
Born to row
In 2013, Hảo impressed scouts with her ideal figure, height and arm span for rowing.
They persuaded the 16-year-old girl to try rowing, a strange sport to many people at that time.
Hảo, born and raised in Tuyên Quang Province, which is hundreds of kilometres from Ha Noi, had no idea what she was in for but curiosity led her to agree.
Her parents did not want to separate from her as they thought that sport would not bring her a good life, especially living far away from family.
Hảo left her hometown after spending several days talking with her parents who finally gave in.
The scouts were right, they had found a talented athlete who used diligence to overcome all challenges.
About two years later, Hảo became a member of the national team and grabbed her first gold medal at the Asian Cup 2016 in her international debut.
Apart from domestic events, she also triumphed at the Southeast Asian and Asian championships along with top-three finishes in other tournaments.
Đinh Thị Hảo poses with 30th SEA Games supporting items in 2019. She won a silver medal in the women's lightweight double sculls event. — Photo courtesy of Đinh Thị Hảo
"Every medal has its own mark in my career but the 2018 Asian Games (ASIAD) silver is the most memorable one as the continental event drew the strongest rivals in Asia and we had to row really hard for that result," said Hảo who rowed in the women's quartet heavyweight double sculls with three other teammates.
Speaking about his athlete, coach Nguyễn Văn Thắng of Hà Nội said: "Hảo is a rare kind of athlete with an iron mind and strong determination. She is a woman of discipline and hard work. I always see her great efforts to overcome difficulties".
Meanwhile, coach Lê Văn Quang of the national team said Hảo was not an athlete who burst onto the scene but one who developed gradually. The 22-year-old and her teammate Thảo are set to lead the national team for years to come.
Thảo is two years younger than Hảo but her achievements are even greater, with a gold in the women's quartet lightweight double sculls in the 2018 ASIAD.
Thảo was recruited to be a track-and-field athlete for her native province of Sơn La and trained in Hà Nội.
But after a few months, the little girl showed scant progress in running. When she was facing being sent home, Lê Văn Núp, deputy director of Quảng Bình's Sports Training Centre, saw her and brought her rowing talent to light in 2016.
After dominating national and regional youth tournaments, Thảo became a national team member when she was 19 in 2017.
A year later the youngest athlete of the team scored her best ever result with Asian Games gold alongside senior teammates. It was one of four titles Việt Nam grabbed from the Games, the most successful ASIAD in history for the country.
COVID-19 in Japan was spreading when the six-strong team flew to Tokyo for their Olympic qualification bid in late April. This was why the rowing team left Hà Nội to little fanfare.
When they took the seventh Olympic slot for Viet Nam, people took notice. It will be the fourth Games in a row that Vietnamese rowers have competed in.
Talking with Việt Nam News, Hảo and Thảo shared that winning an Olympic slot made 2021 their year after nearly two years of hope and waiting with no competitions and fears of Olympic cancellation.
“It is difficult to describe our feelings, training but no competition. So it was great when we finally had the chance to compete. I was kind of happy and strongly pushed although we had no information on our rivals. We just tried to train harder to make sure we performed to our best for the event which was the last one to take an Olympic berth," Hảo said.
They had three days to get familiar with the venue and the climate.
"Three days was enough but if we had more time we would have done our job better. But it was okay because other teams would have felt the same," said Hảo.
Their second-place finish with a time of 7 minutes and 17.34 seconds was the best for Việt Nam in all tournaments to date, according to coach Quang.
“This category was Việt Nam's strongest one, which also secured Olympic slots in three previous times. In this qualifier, athletes came in second with the fastest time recorded. If we had better tactics we might have competed for a gold medal with the host pair,” Quang said.
Lường Thị Thảo and her ASIAD gold medal in the women's quartet heavyweight double sculls category in 2018. — Photo courtesy of Lường Thị Thảo
Quang and his athletes are now working on maintaining their physique and awaiting the end of their quarantine by the end of this month.
"We have only one month and 20 days to focus on the Olympics. My players are currently doing workouts twice a day indoors without supporting equipment. It is not very helpful, only 20 per cent of what we need. It's boring too, but we can't do anything else."
While their coach is worried, Hảo and Thảo are confident.
"We are really happy for what we have done. It is our big milestone in career. We know we still have weaknesses which need to be fixed in the coming weeks. But we will not let pressure affect our performance. We will just do everything to our best," said Hảo.
Thảo said: "We will discuss with coaches to carry out best training plan. The Olympics is a big competition with the strongest athletes to come. We hope to grab a good result". — VNS