The 31st SEA Games was the last regional sports meet for marksman Trần Quốc Cường. Gold medals in the men's individual 50m air pistol and 10m team pistol were a great way to draw the curtain on a stunning competitive career. He speaks with Hữu Hiệp about his passion and future.
|Marksman Trần Quốc Cường wins two gold medals in his last SEA Games. VNA/VNS Photo|
Inner Sanctum: The SEA Games is not a novel tournament to you as you have competed in it 11 times. How did you feel about winning two gold medals this time?
These two golds helped me and Việt Nam escape the heavy pressure after our humiliating failure in the previous Games in the Philippines.
After the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, Việt Nam's international shooting results slowed down.
The coaching board and all athletes strongly believed we had to win the highest possible results at this SEA Games on home ground.
In the 50m event, my score was not good. I did much better during practice and other competitions, as the heavy pressure to win gold can cause lower results.
I was in the lead from the beginning, but later I had some unexpected shots and let competitors from Myanmar get ahead. Then, I asked myself to be focused on trying harder for the No 1 position. And I made it.
I won this event more than 10 years ago. I also grabbed silvers and bronzes in previous Games. The feeling of victory is different in each competition. I am proud to contribute to Việt Nam's overall success.
Inner Sanctum: You have just mentioned your retirement. How long have you planned for this day?
I had my first thoughts of retirement in 2020, at the same time as Olympic champion Hoàng Xuân Vinh. However, national head coach Nguyễn Thị Nhung asked me to delay the decision. She wanted me to stay and guided my younger teammates to at least the end of the 31st SEA Games.
At that time, the team faced a shortage of athletes while we were going through difficulties. I decided to withdraw my plan.
Now that everything is running well, it is the right time for my retirement. I am nearly 49, and my health is not good enough to practise and compete constantly.
Inner Sanctum: After Hoàng Xuân Vinh, now you have to leave the national team. Almost all the veteran athletes have gone. Do you think young marksmen can carry the heavy responsibility and help Việt Nam grab high results like their seniors in the past?
Currently, Hà Minh Thành is still in the team. Thành was born in 1985 and can compete in three to four SEA Games. He is also an experienced shooter with good technique. I believe he will be a good leader of the team.
Besides, the national team is home to many potential and talented athletes. If they receive good support, their results will improve.
Inner Sanctum: How did you overcome difficulties in your early time as an athlete?
In my early years, the shooting team faced huge challenges. We lacked many things, from compensation and shooting ranges to guns and bullets. The practising and competing conditions have improved significantly, but they still do not meet international standards.
For example, the shooting range in the National Sports Training Centre 1 was built dozens of years ago. It was seriously degraded. However, it was rebuilt recently to serve the 31st SEA Games.
And there was a difficulty in securing bullets for training. For many months, athletes had to practise without shooting. We just picked guns up, aimed, and put them down.
World athletes had worked with electronic targets since the early 1990s, while Vietnamese shooters still practised with paper targets, leading to poor results when we competed internationally.
|Trần Quốc Cường competes in the men's 50m air pistol and wins a gold medal. VNS Photo Quý Lượng|
Inner Sanctum: Over more than 30 years of shooting, have you ever felt tired and wanted to stop?
In elite sports, especially shooting, high pressure is always around, and tiredness and disappointment are unavoidable.
Some tournaments after I had poor results, I was disappointed and wanted to quit immediately. However, this only lasted several days because I missed the feeling and atmosphere of practising.
Shooting is my life. In the future, I will not compete anymore, but I will still stick with shooting as a coach.
Inner Sanctum: As a veteran shooter, do you have any special habits before, during and after your competitions?
No, I don't. I don't have special habits because professional athletes live a programmed life. My life almost only revolves around family, training and competition.
Of course, each coach and athlete will have their own way of ensuring the best results. Before the competition day, I will not practise too hard so I do not lose my concentration. I keep working but make sure I balance my mind, fitness and technique.
Inner Sanctum: Pistol shooters put their hands in their pockets when competing. What does this action mean?
Previously, athletes often put their hands on their hips while shooting. But scientists showed that this made their bodies tense.
When putting hands in the pockets, firstly, it can help to stabilise and relax a part of our body; secondly, it creates optimal balance for us. We will produce good shots only when the gun, arm, and body form a block.
Inner Sanctum: To a marksman, his guns are close and respected friends. Can you tell us a little about your friends?
I have two guns for the 10m and 50m events, which Moerimi of Switzerland produces. I was given them in 2016. Prices for the guns were about VNĐ50-70 million (US$2,200-3,000) each at that time.
Before that, I had an old gun I used for almost 20 years.
The guns are manufactured with the same standard, durability and accuracy. But if you want to use them for a long time, you need to take care of them regularly.
It's like a relationship between people. Without taking care of it, it will fade away.
After my retirement, the guns will be given to other athletes. I will miss them, for sure.
Inner Sanctum: It is said that your career was overshadowed by the outstanding performance of teammate Hoàng Xuân Vinh who won one gold and one silver at the 2016 Olympics. Do you feel sad hearing that opinion?
No, I have never been sad because each person has his own destiny and a path to go through. Vinh achieved unprecedented success, but he also had to trade many things, and the pressure on him was heavier than for his teammates.
I also defeated him in the SEA Games in 2011 and 2015. Wins and losses are normal in sports. We are good friends and teammates. VNS