Vietnam's wushu artists are expected to bring home the country's first medals from the 27th Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games 27) in Myanmar.

Wushu events kick off on December 5, nearly a week before the opening ceremony on December 11.

The first medals will be awarded on December 7 when all four taolu (performance) events are decided.

Vietnamese athletes, who are among the best in the world, are expected to finish in the top three in all the events, and win at least one gold medal.

Wushu has been a gold mine for Vietnamese competitors at the SEA Games in recent years, and local martial artists have contributed significantly to the delegation's medal tally.

In the 2009 Games in Laos, the team brought home eight gold medals. Two years later in Indonesia, they claimed four, making them the top-ranking team in the region.

However, this year Myanmar has decided to cut 50 per cent of the shansou (combat) events, so there will only be 23 sets of medals up for grabs (18 for taolu and five for shansou).

Vietnam will take part in 12 performance and five combat events.

The team has been practising in Hanoi under Chinese experts Huang Shao Xion and Ju Jin Yi.

"Both taolu and shansou athletes have been sent abroad for intensive training courses since the beginning of this year. They have also taken part in local and international tournaments. In term of experience, they are up there with the best in the world, but they will still face tough opposition, especially from the hosts," said Le Minh Ha, head of the Wushu Department under the National Sports Administration.

"If they perform to their potential, we could win at least four gold medals. However, because the event has been cut, we only hope to win two or three," Ha said.

"Wushu is one of those sports that comes down to the judges' decision. We hope to take two golds from shansou, and despite being a world powerhouse in taolu, I think winning one gold would be an achievement. The last SEA Games was an example where we won just one gold medal from Nguyen Mai Phuong in the women's changquan," Ha said.

Vietnam's main challenges will come from Indonesia and Malaysia in the taolu categories. The two countries have supported their athletes' development in recent years, and employed the help of Chinese trainers. China is the home of wushu and their athletes are unrivalled in the sport.

Myanmar are also expected to make a strong showing in the shansou events following training courses in China in preparation for the Games. Other rivals will include Thailand and the Philippines.

This year, Nguyen Van Chuong will make his debut as head coach, assisted by former national team members Bui Thi Nhu Trang and Phan Quoc Vinh.

Chuong said that many countries had invested heavily in wushu in recent years and narrowed the gap with Vietnam.

Chuong said only outstanding performances would help Vietnam's athletes to win gold.

World champions Tran Xuan Hiep and Duong Thuy Vi, World Games gold medallist Nguyen Thanh Tung and Asian Games silver medallist Pham Quoc Khanh in the taolu events along with Nguyen Thi Chinh in the shansou competition have been tipped with a chance of winning gold.

Vietnam has sent a team of 12 athletes to Myanmar on December 5. They will compete at the Wunna Theikdi Sports Complex in Nay Pyi Taw from December 5-10.-VNA