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Athlete sprints from rural Viet Nam to Rio

Update: August, 23/2015 - 03:30

Nguyen Thi Huyen was the only athlete at the 28th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Singapore to win three gold medals, set two SEA Games records and meet the qualifying standards for the World Championships and Olympics in two individual events. Bui Quynh Hoa spoke with Huyen, who is the first Vietnamese track and field athlete to win a ticket to the Olympics in Rio next year.

Nguyen Thi Huyen was born in 1993 to a poor family in Nam Dinh Province's Y Yen District. At the 28th SEA Games, she first broke the games record in 400m hurdles with 56.15 seconds (breaking the 20-year Games record of 56.78 set by Thailand's Srithoa Reawadee in Manila, the Philippines), and then setting Asia's leading performance mark in 400m with 52.00 to secure the gold. She finally anchored the 4x400m quarter to another gold, therefore a hat trick, with an Asian lead time of 3:31.46, which is a new games record.

Equally significantly, she also snatched two golds at the 2015 Asian Grands Prix in Thailand.

Sparkling achievement also helped Huyen surpass the 2016 Olympic B standard of 56.20, making her the first Vietnamese track and field athlete to win an official ticket to Brazil next year.

Inner Sanctum: Could you say something about the initial days when you became an athlete? How were your feelings?

It is said that those were long and difficult days for me when I was called to practise with Nam Dinh Province's athlete team in 2007 at the age of 13. I'm not flabby, but I cried so much because I was worried for my old mom and my elder sister who were living in difficult circumstances, and was also homesick. At that time, coach Vu Ngoc Loi helped me contact my mom, and thus made conditions favourable for me. From the first day till now, he has always been with me, helped me be strong and made achievements.

Inner Sanctum: Is your family's difficult circumstances actually create that fire for you to achieve success?

My family is not lucky and happy as others. I never met my dad since I was born. There're only three people in my family, including my ailing mom, my elder sister (who has been afflicted by a mental disease since she was very young) and me. It was my mom who bore the entire burden on her frail shoulders. She had to work hard in the rice fields from dawn till dusk to raise us, but we still did not have enough food. I was clearly aware of our poverty ever since I was just a little girl. That's why although I was facing many challenges, I decided to pursue athletic sport. It was the only way to help my mom and my family improve the circumstances.

Inner Sanctum: What are your achievements in athletics so far?

I think I deserved this reward for me for my hard work and efforts. I was so happy to have won the first gold medal at Southeast Asian youth athletics championships in 2009 when I was 15 years old. It's an unforgettable memory for a young girl like me.

So far, I own more than 100 medals of different kinds. Especially, I was honoured to have received a Labour Order, third class, from President Truong Tan Sang.

I've also set many records and the recent ones are two SEA Games records. Further, I have met the qualifying standard for both World Championships and Olympics in two individual events, become the first Vietnamese track-and-field athlete to win an Olympic ticket to Brazil next year.

I think I'm really lucky in athletics sport.

Inner Sanctum: How did you feel when you received gold medals at the 28th SEA Games as well as at the 2015 ASEAN Grands Prix to the tune of the national anthem and under the flag of Viet Nam?

I can't find any suitable words to describe the joy, happiness and pride I experienced when I stepped on that glory platform and sang the national anthem. I was so happy that I wanted to cry.

It was a big honour for me to witness a lot of friends and even strangers at these events standing up and saluting the Vietnamese flag when it was raised. It was really a significant and unforgettable moment and people around the world learnt more about Viet Nam and Vietnamese people.

I am so proud to be a Vietnamese.

Inner Sanctum: With an amount of about VND800 million (nearly US$40,000) from salary and awards at recent event which is considered a really great amount of money for a poor household in rural areas like yours, do you have any plan for yourself?

All girls like shopping, and I'm one of them, surely. Looking at my friends busy buying clothes , mobile phones or this or that for themselves and their loved ones during our training courses or competitions abroad, I wanted the same, too. Very much so, indeed. I have only my mom and elder sister who are my close kin to take care of. I also understand deeply how hard a life without man (my dad) and money is. So I did not buy anything for myself. The only thing I bought were medicines for my mom. I wanted to send all of my savings to my mom to help her pay debts and improve their life, though it's not much.

After the 28th SEA Games and the 2015 Asian Grands Prix, I was given a huge amount of money as part of the awards. I've sent it all to my mom. I don't want them to worry about money any more. I'll try my best to help them have a better life.

Inner Sanctum: An athlete's career is not too long and talent and luck can only spark during a certain short period in their whole life. If you have another choice to decide again, will you still fall in love with the sport one more time?

Yes, you are right. An athlete's career is very short. I myself witness many people who were sporting heroes in the past, but are facing difficulties in life. However, I have never regretted my choice.

Athletics brings me many things. It has changed my life.

Success never comes easily, sweet results come after great efforts and I will have to try harder in the future. So if offered another chance, I will still pursue the same course. Never will I change my decision. — VNS

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