|Lê Thanh Tùng is the best gymnast in Việt Nam in the vault event and has won titles at the World Cup, Asian Championship and SEA Games. AFP/VNA Photo|
It is said that injuries come with the territory of being a professional athlete, and most have to deal with an injury at some point in their career.
Gymnast Lê Thanh Tùng has shared this fate. Injuries have followed him for years at many tournaments.
He is heading to the 31st SEA Games with an achilles injury but still expects to defend Việt Nam's title in the team's all-round event. He also hopes to steal his limelight in the vault and horizontal bar in the individual categories after poor results at the last Games.
Injuries a part of life
Tùng was Việt Nam's golden hope at the 2019 Games as he was defending champion in three categories, both team and individual. But the Asian champion and World Cup silver medallist could not make the top podium, only bringing home three bronzes.
He was one of two Vietnamese gymnasts at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In his first time at the global biggest sports festival, Tùng was not tipped to get a strong result and performed worse than expected because of injuries.
"I suffered an achilles injury in 2020. At the Olympics, it hurt. I had to take painkillers to practise and compete. I could not perform perfectly," he told Việt Nam News.
|Lê Thanh Tùng practises on the pommel horse at the National Sports Training Centre 1 in Hà Nội. — Photo from Lê Thanh Tùng Facebook|
"I rested for months after that to be treated before returning to training for the SEA Games. I have not recovered totally, but I feel okay now, although I still have to take medicine daily. I hope that I will be in good shape on the day of the competition. Injury is our nightmare and obsession, but we have to live with it."
SEA Games champion again
Born in HCM City in 1995, Tùng has practised gymnastics since he was four. Three years later, he was picked to take part in a lengthy training course in China. After eight years, he returned home, dominated national youth tournaments, and grabbed high results internationally.
2017 would be his best year as he won the World Cup's vault title in March. Two months later, he triumphed in the Asian championship. It was the first time that a Vietnamese gymnast came top in a continental competition.
|The horizontal bar is one of two strong points for Lê Thanh Tùng. — Photo from Lê Thanh Tùng Facebook|
By the end of the year, he made a hat-trick with three golds in the men's team all-round event, individual vault, and horizontal bar at the 29th SEA Games. After a scintillating 12 months, he was voted best athlete of the year.
Before that, he pocketed two gold medals in the men's team's all-round and individual vault in the Malaysia SEA Games in 2015.
"Being a World Cup winner was amazing. My target was reached after many years of trying but getting bronzes and silvers," said 27-year-old Tùng.
"The Asian title was great too because no Vietnamese had done that before. Three SEA Games golds and being the best athlete of 2017 are my honour. Those are my career milestones, and I will remember them forever."
But the 2019 Games were an upset for the five-time SEA Games champion.
"They were unexpected results for me. I was sad because I could not do my best while the Philippines athlete was too strong," Tùng said.
"However, it made me push things more. I looked at it to strive better. I have worked harder and will have to perform much better at the upcoming Games. I really, really don't want the bronze results again in Việt Nam."
At Quần Ngựa Sports Palace, Tùng will again face his strong rival from the Philippines, Carlos Edriel Yulo. The 22-year-old has won multiple medals at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.
|Lê Thanh Tùng trains with the rings, which is one of the events in the men's team all-round event at the upcoming SEA Games. Photo from Lê Thanh Tùng Facebook|
"The men's competitions are competitive because not only us but other teams have prepared really well. Getting gold is not an easy task," Tùng said.
"Yulo is my biggest rival. He is talented and will try his best to defend his No 1 position. The competitions will be tough for all of us but worth watching for everybody."
The gymnastics will begin on May 13, one day after the opening ceremony. The first gold medal will be presented to the men's all-round event by the end of the day. Việt Nam was the defending champion when they won in the 2017 Games, but the event was absent in the 2019 edition.
"Our first task is to maintain our top position. I am very confident in this category because Vietnamese athletes' abilities are equal, and we are at a higher level than other teams," Tùng said.
"Then, I will pay attention to the individual event. I am recovering from injury, so I don't think too much but still have my dreams."
"Tùng's failure in the SEA Games was partly because of my coaching plan, which focused on getting him in peak condition for the Tokyo Olympics. This led to his poor performance in the Games. Another issue was the heavy pressure to defend his three titles," coach Trương Minh Sang said.
"In sport, an athlete can win some days but lose another day. The important thing is how he gets up and goes forward after. He needs to go on to take the lost titles back while maintaining his top place.”
|Lê Thanh Tùng practises the parallel bars in preparation for the 31st SEA Games. Photo from Lê Thanh Tùng Facebook|
With his many achievements, Tùng has been selected as one of the 10 best athletes to participate in the torch relay in the Games' opening ceremony.
"It is an honour for me to recognise my contribution to national sports. Together with the home support, I am ready for the SEA Games," Tùng said. — VNS