Vũ Thành An (left) competes at the 30th SEA Games last December in the Philippines. An is expecting to win his second Olympic berth in Tokyo this year. VNA/VNS Photo Quốc Khánh
Khiếu Thanh Hà
Vũ Thành An screamed aloud to celebrate his dramatic win at the 30th Southeast Asian Games.
The Vietnamese fencer had defeated Filipino Christian Concepcion in his own country to secure his third consecutive gold in the men’s individual sabre event at the regional tournament.
Memories of that moment still bring An joy, but the former Asian bronze-medallist has his focus firmly on the future and more glory, especially in the Olympics.
An is seeking his second berth at the world's biggest sporting event, which will be held this summer in Tokyo.
He is currently in Poland to take part in the Men’s Sabre Fencing World Cup, which is an Olympic qualifier.
He is ranked third in Asia at the moment with 31 points, behind only Wang Shi of China (57 points) and Yoshida Kento of Japan (32.75 points).
Six athletes will qualify for the men's individual sabre via world ranking points, with the top two fencers from both Europe and Asia-Oceania and the top fencer from both the Americas and Africa.
“As you know, there are only two berths from qualification events for Asia. It is not just difficult but extremely tough for me,” An told Việt Nam News.
“While some countries send four to eight competitors for one slot, there is only me from Việt Nam. So it is even harder for me,” he said.
“I have 1.75 points less than Kento. I need to win at least two points from the Poland event (while hoping Kento wins none) to qualify. Otherwise, I need to go further to complete the task,” An said.
To gain their first two points, athletes must advance to the round of 64. But before that, they will have to compete in an elimination round with six matches.
The further they advance, the more points they will collect, with four points in the top 32 and eight points in the top 16, and so on.
An has had a lot of difficulties in his preparation for this tournament.
The Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday and then the novel coronavirus outbreak interrupted his training, forcing him to focus on film study.
“Due to the deadly epidemic, I had to stay indoors. I borrowed a big-screen TV and watched clips of athletes competing. I considered it as a way of practising. I can learn their good moves while finding solutions to beat them too,” An said.
After Poland, An will take part in two other qualification events. And if he still hasn't won his spot in Tokyo, there is a zone qualifying round in April as the last hope.
“The Olympics is a dream competition for every athlete. Being an Olympian means you are on a different level. ‘Olympics’ is a kind of brand name for competitors,” An said.
“I will have to set up a schedule for this tough event which gathers the world's best 32. I must set a target for myself to have a positive result there,” said An, who defeated London 2012 Olympics runner-up Diego Occhiuzzi of Italy at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016.
“I am definitely better than I was four years ago (and my rivals are, too). The matter here is how to combine my technique and experience in the best way to make it my own style and bring it into play in competitions.
“And I also need to have matches with strong rivals to sharpen my skills as well as maintain peak performance.”
Lucky flag holder
Hanoian An, 27, has been selected as the national flag holder four times at international events and each time the Vietnamese delegation did well, making An something of a good luck charm.
“I used to think that it would be really difficult to be the national flag holder. When I was selected it was really happy and proud,” said An, who first carried the flag at the Rio Games.
“The flag bearers become a symbol of their national values: power, confidence and ability. I consider it a great duty and honour. It was a career milestone,” he said.
Since 2012, An has collected five golds from the SEA Games, four golds at the ASEAN championship, a bronze at the Asian championship among many other international medals. His best result was 15th at the Rio Olympics.
An also held the flag for Việt Nam at the 29th SEA Games in 2017 when Việt Nam placed third in the overall rankings with the athletic team dethroning powerhouse Thailand to be the top team.
At the Asian Games in 2018 Vietnamese athletes won four gold medals, considered the best result of the country at the continental event, and again An carried the flag.
He also led his country last year, when Việt Nam enjoyed best SEA Games result ever when the delegation ranked second, just behind the host Philippines.
An hopes to receive that honour again when Việt Nam host the next SEA Games in 2021 where he expects to defend his titles in the individual and team events.
“Currently I am at a higher level than other Southeast Asian athletes. I believe that for the next few years, I will still be a power in the region and win,” An said. VNS
Vũ Thành An holds the Vietnamese flag at the 30th SEA Games' opening ceremony. VNA/VNS Photo Hoàng Linh