A pre-Olympic athletics championship brings out Vietnam’s juniors. Words by Harry Hodge
On a rainy June weekend, a group of some Asia’s most elite teens were running laps around each other in a shot at following their dreams — all the way to the Olympics.
Ho Chi Minh City hosted the Asian Junior Track and Field Championships this year for the second time, with many of the competing athletes representing their nation’s hopes for Olympic years other than this one; think more 2020 or 2024.
For many, this may be the highest level they achieve, competing as 17 to 19-year-olds and representing their respective nations. While Vietnam is expected to send upwards of a dozen competitors in a variety of disciplines to Brazil this August, only two Vietnamese track athletes have qualified at the moment for Rio 2016 — race walker Nguyen Ngung and hurdler Nguyen Thi Huyen. So despite Vietnam fielding a team of 28 athletes at its home event, only a handful realistically have a shot at taking on the world’s best in future Olympics.
Vietnamese National Team Leader Nguyen Duc Nguyen sees great potential in long jumper Nguyen Thi Truc Mai, a 19-year-old who leapt to gold here in Saigon with a 6.34-metre effort. With another four years to Tokyo, Duc sees the teen phenomenon being able to meet the qualifying standard of 6.70 metres to compete with the best on the planet.
“(Track and field) needs more advertising and promotion to make it more attractive to youth,” Duc said, noting that soccer and sometimes tennis and basketball net far more coverage and, just as important, sponsorship deals. “We need TV to make the sport more popular.”
When pointing at the sponsorship placards laid out around Thong Nhat Stadium with 700 athletes from 40 countries competing, Duc explained those were deals in place for this event, not necessarily for the team throughout the rest of the year. Indeed, the only time track seems to make waves here is at the SEA Games, an event where Vietnam generally cleans up against regional competition and medallists get to enjoy a moment in the sun.
For those that made it to District 10, there were dramatic finishes in numerous events, with athletes like sprinter Le Tu Chinh roaring down the track in the women’s 100 metres and Lo Thi Thanh in the women’s 1,500 metres, each of them narrowly missing the podium. A former long jumper himself, Duc acknowledged that Truc Mai could be the next great Olympic hope for this country.
That said, for many, the dream of representing their nation has already been achieved, at the junior level. And from the emotion and pride visible at Thong Nhat last month, for many that may be enough.
Vien Splashes to Medal in Indianapolis
Top Vietnamese swimmer Nguyen Thi Anh Vien won a bronze medal at the Arena Pro Swim Series in Indianapolis in the US last month, according to Vietnam News.
Vien came in third in the women’s 200m individual medley, with a time of 2:15.55. Earlier, Vien ranked second of 71 swimmers in the qualifying round, to reach the final round.
According to the International Swimming Federation, Vien’s best performance in this category is 2:12.33 which she set at the world championships last year. At the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games last year in Singapore, Vien won a gold medal and broke the Games’ record with a time of 2:13.53.
In the women’s 100m freestyle, Vien ranked sixth, after clocking 56.16 seconds in the final.
Vietnamese Judoka Headed for Rio
The International Judo Federation has announced the list of competitors for the 2016 Olympics, including Vietnam’s Van Ngoc Tu, the country’s 19th athlete to qualify for Rio de Janeiro, according to Thanh Nien.
The 29-year-old from Soc Trang Province ranks eighth in Asia and 44th in the world in the women’s 48kg, and qualified because she has remained in the world’s top 50 for two years.
The IJF selects 22 judokas to compete in the quadrennial event, including one from the host country, the world’s top 14 and seven others from five continents, including two from Asia.
Eighteen other Vietnamese athletes have qualified in in badminton, rowing, swimming, shooting, fencing, track and field, wrestling, gymnastics, and weightlifting.
National Team Claims AYA Bank Cup
Vietnam scored three times after a goalless 90 minutes against Singapore to win the four-team 2016 AYA Bank Cup in Myanmar last month, according to Tuoi Tre.
Both teams had scoring opportunities in normal time, but neither was able to convert. One minute into the first half of extra time, Vietnam’s star striker Le Cong Vinh converted a brilliant assist from Van Quyet. Eight minutes later, the duo struck again, with Quyet scoring this time after the ball hit a Singaporean defender following the first attempt by Vinh.
Thanh Trung settled the match in the 114th minute, earning a first trophy for coach Nguyen Huu Thang, less than four months after he took charge of the team.
Minh, Trang Victorious on Home Soil
Badminton players Nguyen Tien Minh and Vu Thi Trang brought gold medals home after winning in the finals of the Yonex Sunrise Vietnam International Challenge last month in Hanoi, according to Vietnam News.
No 1 Minh defeated No 2 Tzu Wei Wang of Chinese Taipei 22-20, 21-16 in the men’s singles match.
Trang, No. 2 seed, won 19-21, 21-19, 21-13 over No. 7 Saena Kawakami of Japan in the women’s singles class.