2020 Tokyo Olympic symbol in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo: AFP/VNA)
For Vietnam’s elite athletes who have targeted these Games for many years, the delay is a major blow but their Olympic dreams have by no means come to an end.
Stay hungry, stay focused
Despite his incredible achievements for one so young, 2000-born swimmer Nguyen Huy Hoang, the first to earn a berth in the Vietnamese team to the games, told the Vietnam News Agency that he never ceases trying to reach further and higher.
This would have been the first Olympics of Hoang’s career and would have followed on the heels of him smashing the 2019 SEA Games record in the Philippines. He couldn’t hide his disappointment when talking to media after the announcement was made that the Games had been postponed.
The ambitious athlete, known as “otter” in his hometown, understood why the decision was made, however, calling it “the right thing to do” and “better for everyone’s health”.
“The Olympics are a major event for me and all elite athletes, but they were only delayed - not cancelled,” Hoang said optimistically, believing that the postponement may even be good for him as he will have another year to train and improve.
For 25-year-old gymnast Le Thanh Tung, the second to earn a berth in the team, the postponement could be mentally tough given how rigorous his sport is and how brief someone’s time in the spotlight can be.
However, like Hoang, he considers the postponement an “opportunity” rather than a “let-down”.
Even if the tournaments weren’t taking place, he said he would still train hard every day.
For Do Thi Anh Nguyet and Nguyen Hoang Phi Vu, the first Vietnamese archers to secure a berth at the Tokyo Olympics 2020, qualification was a “turning point” in their sporting careers and a “great source of encouragement” for the long and challenging path ahead.
Both pinned their hopes on the world’s largest sporting event helping them become more confident when competing at other international tournaments.
Meanwhile, Nguyen Van Duong, the first boxer to qualify for Vietnam in 32 years, said the postponement allows him to sharpen his skills, like speed, strength, and tactics.
“There is another year to go, so I’m working extra hard on technique and tactics right now,” he said. Come the time, he will give it his best shot.
Killing two birds with one stone
According to Deputy Director of the General Department of Sports and Physical Training Tran Duc Phan, the postponement of the Olympic Games until next year is not terrible news for the Vietnamese Olympics team, as it aims to earn 20 spots.
Only five athletes have qualified to date, however, in swimming, gymnastics, archery, and boxing.
Sports such as women’s wrestling, fencing, track and field, swimming, badminton, and judo only offer a few opportunities to secure berths at the Games, but now the door is open wide as there is one more year for athletes to train and qualify.
One additional challenge, though, is that the Tokyo Olympics and the Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) are now both scheduled to take place next year, with Vietnam hosting the latter.
“Fortunately, the Olympics are taking place in the summer and the SEA Games at year’s end,” Phan said. “The four or five months between the two is just enough time for athletes to recover and reach their optimal performance level again.”
He told the media that Vietnam will focus on earning more spots at the Olympics but would also target SEA Games 31. In other words, it hopes to “kill two birds with one stone”.
For athletes who have already secured berths to Tokyo, participation in more than one international event in a year doesn’t present a problem.
“Rather, it will help me sharpen my skills and mental approach,” said swimmer Hoang.
For gymnast Tung, the frequent engagement in international tourneys is necessary to further fine-tune his moves and also get proper rest. “This helps me improve my performance and avoid major injuries so that I’m always ready for upcoming competitions.”
Young “Robinhoods” Nguyet and Vu also see opportunities in partaking in multiple international games. “We are still young, so the more we compete, the stronger we become.”
The natural-born boxer Duong shared the same views, saying his greatest strength is “determination” and he can be a “combative warrior” inside the ring.
At the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the Vietnam Olympic Committee fielded a squad of 23 athletes competing in 10 sports. Shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh claimed the country’s first-ever gold medal, in the men’s 10-metre air pistol on the opening day, and then followed it up with a silver in the 50-metre pistol four days later, emerging as the most decorated Vietnamese athlete in the country’s sporting history.