VN athlete racing to make the triathlon in SEA Games 31

Every step Nguyen Tien Hung takes on the familiar roads of Phu Tho Province makes him feel happy.

I must train hard with the hope to be part of the Vietnam team taking part in the triathlon event of the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games to be held in Vietnam next year,” Hung told Vietnam News.

“The opportunity is for all triathlon athletes in Vietnam and it is a great honour to participate in a Games in our own country. I have been preparing and training right this year to have a chance to participate in this region's biggest sports festival,” Hung added.

The 36-year-old is one of the best amateur runners in the country. He won Vietnam’s biggest mountain race, the Vietnam Mountain Marathon (VMM), in Sa Pa in the northern mountainous province of Lao Cai last year. He broke his own record from the previous year and became the first runner to win two consecutive VMM 100km races.

He is also one of two Vietnamese runners who qualified for the Boston Marathon 2020 in the US, one of the world’s best-known road racing events.

Last year, he represented Vietnam at the SEA Games 30 in the Philippines alongside Cao Ngoc Ha and Nguyen Thi Phuong Trinh in duathlon. 

This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many triathlon events have been cancelled but Hung is still training hard.

Hung said that he hopes the event will be approved for the SEA Games in Vietnam so amateur runners like him will have the chance to prove themselves.

Opportunity knocks

Among 36 sports proposed by the hosts Vietnam for competition at the 31st SEA Games, triathlon was left out. The move wasn't a surprise given the country's relative weakness in the event.

However, the opportunity to participate in the SEA Games in triathlon at home is still open. This sport was named as one of 11 sports under consideration for one of the final four sports to be played at the 31st Games.

“There is still a chance for there to be a triathlon competition in the Games in Vietnam. The host country has chosen 36 official sports but there are 11 proposed sports and participating countries will choose four more to be included in the competition,” Duong Duc Thuy, head of the athletics section of the National Sports Administration and head of the triathlon in the SEA Games last year, told Việt Nam News.

“As I know, currently there are five countries wishing to include triathlon on the official list, namely Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Even Cambodia, the host country of the 2023 SEA Games, has submitted a proposal to bring triathlon into the competition, with both minor disciplines duathlon and aquathlon. That is the premise for us to see triathlon has an advantage in this race,” Thuy added.

Another issue is the sets of medals. If triathlon, duathlon and aquathlon are part of the Games, there will be about 10 sets of medals for the individual and relay competition,

When a country proposes putting a sport on the roster, it is also based on the sets of medals and ability to win medals to improve their overall ranking.

According to Thuy, since 2017, the athletics section of the National Sports Administration started to work on a project to bring triathlon into the 31st SEA Games.

In addition, when the Vietnam Triathlon Federation (VTF) is launched, it is hoped to be able to cover the expenses of running the sport.

Thuy told Vietnam News that the VTF is expected to hold an official congress in September. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been pushed back to the end of this year. It is expected that after the VTF launches, there will be five to seven local triathlon federations launched.

“One more reason for me to believe that triathlon can be included in the official list of the SEA Games 31 is that the VTF can take charge of organising this sport event without any budget from the Government,” said Thuy.

Fast development

A few years ago, many people in Vietnam were still unfamiliar with the triathlon even though it's an Olympic sport.

However, the increasing number of triathlons held in Vietnam has made the sport more popular.

There were nearly a dozen triathlons scheduled to be held in the country this year before the pandemic struck.

In 2019, for the first time, a Vietnamese triathlon team competed at the SEA Games.

Thuy said that at the Techcombank Ironman 70.3 Vietnam last year, the number of attendees was large led many foreign entrants to comment that Vietnam should establish a triathlon team to compete in the 31st Games.

This leap of faith was paid off with a medal at the event in the Philippines, as Nguyen Thi Phuong Trinh took a bronze in the women's duathlon.

The development of the triathlon movement in Vietnam is set to peak with the establishment of the VTF, which is awaiting approval from authorities. 

The campaign board to establish the federation with many businessmen who are passionate about this sport also brings the hope of creating a strong federation that won't be a burden to State management agencies and can bring the sport to a higher level.