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Female wrestler keeps eyes on the prize

Update: January, 31/2011 - 11:30

Power: Nguyen Thi Lua (upper) wrestles an opponent in the women's 48kg freestyle national wrestling championship. — VNA/VNS Photo Quoc Khanh
After winning the country's first medal at the Asian Games in female wrestling, the athlete has her sights set on achieving more glory soon, Cong Thanh goes beyond the mat.

Wrestler Nguyen Thi Lua, 20, established a milestone for Vietnamese wrestling at the Asian Games in China last year when she bagged the country's first medal in the sport, their first in 28 years.

The medal helped her finish in the top ten list of outstanding athletes for 2010.

Lua has another reason to celebrate, as she will be listed in her Duong Noi native village's "Gold Book of Famous People" at a festival on February 14.

"It's an honour for me and my family when I will be named in the book of outstanding villagers. I feel very happy as I'm the only girl among the list of 60," Lua says.

However, February 14, Valentine's Day, hasn't brought her a boyfriend with chocolates and roses yet.

"I've been looking for a boyfriend. I'm very confident when it comes to sport, but I need a little luck in life. I'm still waiting for my perfect man," Lua said.

Born to be wrestler

Duong Noi Village in Quoc Oai District, 30km west of Ha Noi centre, has become well-known as the cradle of wrestling in the north of Viet Nam for years.

The 7,000-population village, which has around 600 wrestlers training at local arenas, provided four wrestlers for the national team at the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

Lua is the third child of farming family, whose lives rely on bumper harvests, grew up in rice paddy-fields, with her and her three siblings often riding buffalo.

She fell in love with wrestling when watching bouts during the village's New Year festival, but there were no competitions for women wrestlers.

"I was eager to train, but my dream only came true when I qualified for elite training at the age of 12. I was recruited by the Ha Noi team," she recalled.

"It was a hard decision for me. My parents just reminded me of the tough challenges I would face when on sport course, but I decided to join it anyway."

She said she had found wrestling as a way of life.

The solidly built, 1.63m tall wrestler's power and skills won her a call-up to the national team in 2005.

Two years later, Lua left her mark with two bronze medals at the Asian Junior Wrestling Championships and the World Championship.

However, the Southeast Asian Games in Laos in 2009 left her depressed.

The organising committee did not organise a women's 48kg class at the last minute when Thailand, Laos and Indonesia opponents all withdrew from the division.

"I felt empty and disappointed at that time. I would have won a gold at those games and a cash-prize. Each SEA Games gold holder wins VND45 million (US$2,300), a big sum for a farming family during the new year," she recalls.

"I cried about missing the prize, all the work I put in and a wasted year of preparation."

Hands on: Silver medallists Nguyen Thi Lua of Viet Nam (right) takes on gold medallist So Sim-hyang of North Korea during the women's Freestyle 48kg wrestling competition at the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou. — AFP/VNAPhoto
Scares

Injury is always a nightmare for athletes and Lua has her fears too.

Wrestlers often bruise and disfigure their ears through mat falls.

"I haven't suffered a major injury yet, but it may happen someday," she said.

"Women wrestlers hesitate to talk about their cauliflower ears. I feel a bit shy when boyfriends look at my ears. It's also a disadvantage for me in talks with men," Lua confides.

Lua said she also hates dieting. She weighs 52kg and she is forced to lose weight before competitions.

"The diet leaves me tired. I was not allowed to eat as much as normal and even water intake is restricted. It's an awful experience on a diet, but then after that, I can revive my beauty," she laughs.

Retired national team coach Le Ngoc Minh praised his former student.

"They (female wrestlers) are so brave. They have a harder job than the male athletes do," Minh said.

"Wrestling is one of the few sports Viet Nam consistently wins gold medals in, and the women wrestlers have regularly mined the SEA Games for golds since the sport was re-introduced at the SEA Games in Indonesia in 1997."

Nguyen The Long, head of wrestling section of the national Sports Administration, said Lua is among Viet Nam's gold hopefuls at the Olympics.

"She is a dogged wrestler with powerful hand blows. Lua isn't worried about difficult matches. We'll provide her with the best conditions to qualify for the London Olympics in 2012," Long said.

The Asian Games silver medallist is now struggling by on a four-year course at the Sport College, where she hopes to become a coach or sports teacher in future.

Lua said she is targeting a berth at the London Olympics next year.

"It's a challenge for me. But I think I'll be ready for a fight in the London arena," Lua said. — VNS

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