Stories about “rough pearls”

A number of young promising athletes emerged over the past year, giving fans a strong belief in the bright future of national sports. However, there remains a lot of work to be done to make these “rough pearls” sparkle and glitter on their way up to the world stage.

Vietnamese sports has been flourishing in recent years with stellar performances made by prominent youngsters at international competitions, including swimmers Nguyen Thi Anh Vien and Lam Quang Nhat, 2015 Wimbledon Men’s doubles champion Ly Hoang Nam, weightlifter Thach Kim Tuan, chess player Le Quang Liem, and footballer Nguyen Cong Phuong along with his teammates. 

From the time their talents were discovered and fostered, these outstanding individuals have won numerous achievements, contributing to glorifying Vietnamese sports on the international arena.

Nevertheless, in order to help these “rough pearls” advance further in their sporting careers as well as reach the continental and international levels, there still remains a lot of work for the sports sector to do. 

How to invest wisely in order to save these young talents from being, as the Vietnamese proverb goes “soon ripe soon rotten” - is a rather tricky problem.

The recent messy lawsuit between promising swimming star Nguyen Diep Phuong Tram and her managing unit has made people wary of the future of young athletes. 

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Promising swimming star Nguyen Diep Phuong Tram
The talent of the 2001-born girl is undeniable, proven by her impressive collection of medals from both domestic and international tournaments. 

Regarded as a promising successor to her celebrated senior teammate Nguyen Thi Anh Vien, it seemed that Tram’s sports career would enter a new chapter with unlimited possibilities. However, Vietnamese sports almost nearly lost a talent – a yet-to-be-honed “rough pearl”.

After submitting an application to quit competition for overseas study, Tram was asked to pay VND961 million in compensation in order to end her contract with Ho Chi Minh City’s Yet Kieu Aquatic Sports Centre. 

Disagreeing with the request, Tram’s family decided to sue her managing unit. Over the course of ten months, Phuong Tram went from being a promising athlete considered as a national “treasure” to facing an unstable future with nowhere left to go. 

Every day, she continued with training programmes sent by coach of the national swimming team Dang Anh Tuan from the US, in order to maintain her form. 

Not until late December did Tram make the decision to stay and continue competing for Ho Chi Minh City after four appearances in court for reconciliation. 

In order to persuade Tram, the municipal Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism pledged to work with the General Department of Sports and Physical Training to financially cover Tram’s overseas training along with senior Nguyen Thi Anh Vien and coach Dang Anh Tuan, improve her salary as well as ensure Tram’s future after she bids farewell to the ‘blue race’.

The case would not have taken so much time to deal with if the sports sector had worked out specific orientations and investment plans for Tram in recognition of her amazing achievements obtained at the age of 14. 

Fortunately, all of that is now beyond her, raising hopes that Tram will make considerable steps forward in her future swimming career.

Luckier than Nguyen Diep Phuong Tram, the “rough pearl” of canoeing Truong Thi Phuong has drawn a lot of public attention over the past year. 

The 1999-born rower had a rather organised roadmap into canoeing. Being called up to the national team at the early age of 15, Phuong promptly promoted her available potential with an innate physical strength. 

Since proving herself with two gold medals at the 28th SEA Games and the 2015 Asian Canoeing Championships, the San Diu ethnic athlete has been enjoying optimum training conditions and incentives.

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Nguyen Le Cam Hien (centre) is the first Vietnamese female player to win the world U-8 chess title.
Thus, young athletes, including Tram and Phuong, have somewhat felt assured to concentrate on training towards greater goals. However, there still remains risks of “talent drain” in Vietnamese sports, which can be seen the most clearly in the shooting event. 

During a selection course in 2013, Iwaki Ai, a young shooter of both Vietnamese and Japanese blood, was discovered with special talent in the 10m air rifle event and was eligible for a position in the national shooting team. 

Seen as one of the brightest young shooting talents of HCM City in particular and Vietnam as a whole, Ai has immediately been embraced in the group of key athletes under special investments and has won a number of impressive achievements so far after completing two years of shooting training.

However, as revealed by trainer Nguyen Thi Thuy Trang of the HCM City shooting team, Ai’s family is planning to send her to Japan for overseas study at the age of 18. 

Ai herself has yet to make any decisions about her future as she wishes to continue devoting herself to Vietnamese shooting but also wants to pursue academic programmes in Japan. 

However there are still three years left before Ai turns 18, therefore the HCM City shooting needs to promptly make a choice between offering incentives to convince Ai to pursue her sports career and letting go of the athlete in order to invest in other athletes who will devote themselves to long-term competition.

The interval as an athlete will be an interesting experience for Iwaki Ai if she decides to study overseas. 

The same can be said for chess prodigy Nguyen Le Cam Hien, an eight-year-old girl who competed in Greece and overcame other international opponents to become the first Vietnamese female player to win the world U-8 chess title.

Cam Hien was born in a family of chess tradition, with an international-master father and a chess-master mother. Proud as they are of their talented daughter, Hien’s parents are worried about the financial cost to help their daughter fully develop her chess potential. 

Right after Hien’s talent was discovered, financial investments from her family and her managing unit in Quang Ninh province still remained limited, only just covering traveling and accommodation expenses.

The stories of Iwaki Ai and Nguyen Le Cam Hien indicate that discovering and selecting promising faces is hard but that fostering and developing them into real talents is much more difficult. 

Young athletes with special talents should receive adequate investments because it will take years for Vietnamese sports to see such “prospective seeds”. The New Year often drives people to dream of noble things. 

The outstanding achievements made by Vietnamese athletes sponsored under the current level of investments have triggered a strong belief in a generation of young talents promising to improve the stature of Vietnamese sports on the international arena.

Nhan Dan

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