They are ranked number one in their categories; are participating in the largest international sports festival without a coach; prefer to be coach, assistant and training partner to each other during the three-week competition; and are engaged to be married after the Olympics.
Minh completed his first match in the men’s singles event early on August 12, Hanoi time. His teammate and companion sat on the sidelines, playing her role as his coach, successfully helping him come from behind to pocket his first win against Vladimir Malkov from Russia 15-21, 21-9, 21-13.
Minh confirmed after the game that he was a little intimidated by his younger, stronger, taller rival whose smashes were too strong to withstand.
|Nguyen Tien Minh and Vu Thi Trang in time out at a game in Olympics.
However, Trang was at his side. Despite being a junior player compared to Minh, former world No. 5, she had a clear view of the game and her strong match reading ability allowed her to give Minh the precise advice he needed.
Cheering him on constantly, screaming “fighting, honey!” Trang also asked Minh to speed up his smashes, limit shuttles to his rival’s left side and attack consecutively.
The 33-year-old athlete, who is now the world’s No. 33 player, felt strongly encouraged and found a way to fight back. He sent Malkov running around the court, exhausting him before he surrendered in the second and third sets.
Malkov is ranked No. 61 in the world, but he beat Minh in their first meeting at the White Night event last year in Russia.
His next game is against Austrian David Obernosterer, who lost 5-21, 11-21 to defending champion Lin Dan of China in another match of Group E.
Vietnamese reporters had to wait nearly two hours after the match to interview Minh as he was busy working as Trang’s coach during her training session.
“Trang and I have been together for several recent tournaments. We practice together and support each other when one of us is on the court. It works out really well,” said Minh.
“She brings me energy and the ability to win this match,” Minh said at his first Olympic game, adding that he was very lucky to have a good partner with him at this event.
Minh is well known for his solitary nature at most international tournaments, as he often competes solo, without any assistance from coaches, doctors or a logistics crew. This is a stark difference from other athletes who are always supported at tournaments of any level.
Trang took part in her event yesterday. She lost 10-21, 8-21 to the world’s No 6 seed Nozomi Okuhara of Japan in Pool J.
Trang will next play Indonesian Lindaweni Fanetri.
“I am a little nervous and worried. But I have Minh on my side; he will help me a lot,” said Trang, who is enjoying her first stint at the Olympics.
“I will try my best at the Games. Minh and I worked very hard to grab our berths here. This was our first and only chance to be together as athletes in an Olympic event,” she added.
Minh is considering retirement after the Rio event.