|Young swimmer Nguyen Huy Hoang aims to shine at the SEA Games in the Philippines. (Photo: tinquangbinh.com)
Hoang, 19, will compete in the men’s 1,500m freestyle and 400m freestyle, with heats for the latter beginning on December 4 and the former a day later.
As the hosts, the Philippines eliminated the 800m freestyle event, which is Hoang’s strongest race.
“Actually, I feel a little bit of disappointment as I can’t compete in my strong race,” said Hoang.
“Although the 400m freestyle is not my forte it is an event belonged to long distance which requires endurance. For me, there is not much difference between 400m and 800m. But I will have more rivals in the 400m.
“I have competed in many international events so I know most of the strong rivals in the region. At this year’s Games, swimmers from Indonesia and Malaysia will be my main rivals in the long race.
“I will make every effort to take two golds in the Philippines.”
At the SEA Games two years ago, Hoang's first crack at the regional event, he bagged a gold medal in the men’s 1,500m freestyle with a time of 15:20.1 and also broke the Games’ record which was made by his teammate Lam Quang Nhat at the Games.
At the Asian Games 2018, Hoang took a silver medal in the 1,500m freestyle with a time of 15:1.63 and a bronze in the 800m freestyle with a time of 7:54.32. While at the Youth Olympics last year, he proved himself in the 800m freestyle with a better time of 7:50.2 to take gold.
Hoang, a native of Quang Binh province in central Vietnam, became the first Vietnamese athlete to secure a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after finishing the 800m freestyle race at the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships in the Republic of Korea in July in 7:52.74, under the Olympic Standard A time of 7:54.31.
“Gaining the A standard for the Olympics next year is a driving force for me to strive and do better in this year’s Games,” Hoang said.
With the 800m ruled out of this year’s SEA Games, Hoang's focus is firmly on more prestigious events.
"As the regional biggest sport event doesn’t have the 800m freestyle category, Hoang trains for the 400m more. But via working with Hoang's coach, Chinese Huang Gouhui, we confirmed Hoang should focus on the Olympics and Asian Games with 1,500m freestyle and 800m freestyle, not leaving the 800m out because it doesn’t exist in the SEA Games,” said head of Vietnam sports delegation at the SEA Games and deputy head of Vietnam Sports Administration Tran Duc Phan.
“We have high hopes for Hoang as he is a young talent who is always highly appreciated for his spirit, will and hard training,” Phan added.
Notably, Hoang still hasn’t trained abroad.
“In the process of preparation for the Games, I suggested Hoang’s coach Huang arrange for him to train abroad in the US or Hungary but the Chinese coach said Hoang’s training was in his plan. The Vietnam Sports Administration still has a plan to send Hoang to train abroad. However, we will support and respect the decision of the expert,” Phan said.
Hoang is very eager to be trained abroad.
“I was born in a fisherman family and I never thought that one day I would have a chance to train abroad. It's not only a chance to hone my skills but also broaden my view of life. But everything is decided by the training board and coach,” Hoang said.
“Now I focus on training and will try my best in the event in the Philippines. I am also satisfied with training at the National Sports Training Centre in the southern province of Can Tho with the other coaches and Huang,” he said.
Hoang is the youngest in a poor family of six children in Thanh Tien hamlet, Tuyen Hoa district near the Gianh River.
When he was one year old, his parents started taking him out on a boat to catch fish, so he learned to swim when he was three years old.
At the age of 14, he was called up to the national junior swimming team and a year later, he won five gold medals at the SEA Junior Swimming Championships in 400m freestyle, 1,500m freestyle, 200m butterfly, 200m crawling, and 4x100m relay while breaking three SEA records.
He made a shock at the age of 16 after beating veteran Lam Quang Nhut to become national champion in the 1,500m.