Nguyen Thi Anh Vien
When Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe burst onto the scene in the 2000 Summer Olympics at the tender age of 17, he became a household name. His three golds and two silvers earned him the coveted accolade of Young Australian of the Year. At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, American teenage swimmer Michael Phelps not only repeated but surpassed the feat, winning six golds and two bronzes.
It is no surprise that the following this year’s exploits, young Vietnamese swimmer, Nguyen Thi Anh Vien, has also become a household name. Only on the scene since 2014, when she won a gold medal at the Youth Olympic Games in the 200m Individual Medley, her road to stardom was cemented in dramatic form earlier this year at the 2015 South East Asian (SEA) Games in Singapore. The Can Tho native won eight gold medals, one silver and one bronze. In modern-day Vietnamese sporting history, no one athlete has had such individual success as 19-year-old Vien, making her a natural choice for Person of the Year.
From Hometown Canal to World Beater
Born in Ba Cau near Can Tho, a village split in two by a canal, Vien’s grandfather taught her to swim. With well over 10,000 children a year drowning in Vietnam, it was a wise move. Says her grandfather, like other kids “she was scared and at the beginning, couldn’t stop yelling at me.”
Yet Vien quickly showed a talent for all things aquatic, and in Grade 5 was chosen for the province’s Phu Dong tournaments. Thanks to her outstanding results, her name was placed on a list of talented athletes to enter the army sports training centre in Can Tho. At the age of 14, she took up her place.
Her first international medals were two silvers in the 2011 SEA Games. The following year she went to Florida to train and after this year’s success in Singapore, in October 2015 she was once again prominent, winning three more medals at the Military World Games in Mungyeong, South Korea. She is now in the US training for next year’s Olympics.
According to tuoitrenews.com, Vien has been earning around VND500 million a year since 2013 — this year, thanks to her performances at the SEA Games, she has brought in a total prize pot of VND1 billion.
Regarded as the only dong billionaire on Vietnam’s swimming scene, Vien still lives a simple life. She doesn’t own a mobile phone or have a personal Facebook account. The only thing connecting her with her family when she is on training trips is her Vietnamese coach Dang Anh Tuan’s mobile phone. The government pays for all her training and living costs to enable her to concentrate on her swimming.
What she does earn she gives to her parents, who now have a well-built house, modern furniture and other facilities. Vien was once was awarded a prize of eight motorbikes, televisions and mobile phones, which she later gave to her family.
Every story has two sides. Vien doesn’t enjoy the freedom that other teenagers would take for granted — a tight training and educational timetable takes care of that. She is now taking one-on-one classes for chemistry, maths, physics, literature, history, geography and English to prepare for her Grade 11 exams.
However, nothing takes away her passion for swimming. “I have won many medals and broken many records,” she said at this year’s SEA Games. “But I will not stop striving. If I become [satisfied] with what I have already achieved, I will become a loser right away. I don’t think about the achievements, I see every new day as a day in which I haven’t achieved anything.”