Young squad set for gold hunt in Singapore

The predominantly young swimming squad has set a target to win at least 10 gold medals at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, a first in the history of Vietnam's sport.
The predominantly young swimming squad has set a target to win at least 10 gold medals at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, a first in the history of Vietnam's sport.

"We have drawn a detailed preparation plan for the Games; our athletes have been attending a range of tournaments as a part of the plan. This helped them improve their results. Overall, they have maintained good performance and are ready for the Games," said Dinh Viet Hung, head of the Swimming Department of the National Sports Administration.

Many feel the target of 10 gold is believable as Vietnam is home to some best swimmers, including Olympian Nguyen Thi Anh Vien.

In the previous Games, Vietnam made history by winning five gold, five silvers, and two bronzes, a result that none of the national sport officials had expected.

Vien, who was a new name at the Games two years ago, contributed three titles in women's 200m backstroke, 200m, and 400m medley events.

This year, the Can Tho province-born athlete is expected to win in six categories, after her remarkable show in international competitions.

Vien will have to defend her crowns as well as conquer the 200m, 400m, and 800m freestyle titles.

The 18-year-old has been training hard in the US under famous coach Cray Anthony Teeters. Her preparations are not only for the SEA Games but also for further tournaments, including the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 and the Asian Games two years later.

According to Vietnamese swimming officials and coach Dang Anh Tuan, her performance has been pretty good and it showed in her training and competitions in the US; they have been better than any of her rivals in ASEAN states.

They believe that the insanely talented athlete can also vie for gold in 200m butterfly as her result is close to the top three.

At the recent Arena Pro Swim Series in the US, Vien grabbed a bronze medal in 400m medley, with a time of 4:42.60.

She also took part in different categories and successfully entered the final eight rounds.

"Vien might not have competed against world-level swimmers in the American tournament, but she definitely is a star in Southeast Asia," Nguyen Hong Minh, former head of the Elite Sports of the National Sports Administration, noted, adding that Vien can easily manage to perform in six to seven events at the SEA Games.

Hoang Quy Phuoc is another golden hope of Vietnam.

Phuoc, 23, has prepared on his own by undergoing a training course in Japan, where he reached Standard B to compete at 100m (50.80sec) and 200m freestyle (1:50.94) in the coming Olympics in Brazil.

Phuoc will defend his title in 200m freestyle and swim to reclaim his glory in 100m freestyle that he had lost in last Games in Myanmar.

The Da Nang-born swimmer is also expected to change the colour of his medal from silver to gold in 400m freestyle.

Two years ago, Tran Duy Khoi bagged only one silver medal (200m medley) and one bronze medal (400m medley).

Following his outstanding performance at the national championships this year, with 11 gold and five records, 18-year-old Khoi is hoping to make a difference.

Apart from Vien, Phuoc and Khoi, who compete in short-distance events, Vietnam have Lam Quang Nhat who made a big bang in Myanmar as he secured a gold medal in men's 1,500m freestyle in his SEA Games debut.

Nhat successfully finished his race with a time of 15:39.44, leaving behind his nearest rival Kevin Yeap of Malaysia for a five-second gap. His victory was a strong boost for Vietnam.

Two years later, the HCM City-born athlete, who just returned home from China, improved his best result to 15:33.21, which is expected to keep him on the top of the podium.

"I have no advantages of height or a full span of arms needed for swimmers of short-distance events. So, I focus on this category and I am hoping to shine in Singapore SEA Games," said 18-year-old Nhat.

The team's biggest challenge will be the odd organising activities of the hosts.

Athletes are not allowed to practise at the main venue (OCBC Aquatics Centre) two days before their competitions, which is not in line with the world swimming federation's rules.

Vietnamese coaches have sought permission for their athletes to train in the evenings, but they have yet to receive a reply.

A tight competition schedule, asking swimmers to take part in consecutive events, will make it difficult for them to prepare for their next events, Hung observed, adding that Vietnam strongly objected to the organisers' rules and were waiting for a response from them.

The eight-member swimming squad leaves for Singapore on June 2.

Their competition will take place on June 6-11 at the OCBC Aquatics Centre.-VNA

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