HÀ NỘI — Việt Nam have never won a gold medal in the men’s walking event at the regional Southeast Asian (SEA) Games despite having previously qualified for the Olympics in the sport.
Phùng Kim Quang is on a mission to change that.
Walking was little more than a blip on the Vietnamese sporting radar until siblings Nguyễn Thị Thanh Phúc and Nguyễn Thành Ngưng pocketed gold and bronze in the women’s and men’s races at the 25th Games in 2011.
Since then, with better support, Việt Nam have dominated the women’s discipline with four titles. However, the men’s crown is still out of the reach despite three silver medals.
Teenager Quang is the big Vietnamese hope in the sport after recording some outstanding performances at recent domestic competitions.
He is the record holder of the junior tournament and in the top three of the national championship.
Quang was born in Ba Vì District, in the outskirts of Hà Nội, in 2003.
The naughty little boy loved and played well in all sports such as badminton, shuttlecock, football and track-and-field. After dominating school competitions he became a member of the district athletics team.
Two years later, Quang was among several boys introduced to the walking event, a new sport in the city in 2015. His coach Nguyễn Văn Toản did not pick him at first but when the team did not have enough athletes, Quang was recruited after a second trial.
But Toản, who coached Phạm Thị Thu Trang to the SEA Games women’s title in 2019, gradually found the thin boy was suitable for the sport in which posture is of prime importance while arm, shoulder and leg actions must be well controlled to ensure balance.
After four years in the sport, Quang grabbed his first gold at the National Youth Athletics Championship and a bronze in the National Athletics Championship in 2019.
A year later, the 17-year-old defended his title at the junior 5,000m event and set a new record of 23min 14.21sec, 11 seconds than the old record of 23:14.32 by Dương Hữu Tín of Nghệ An Province in 2013.
“It is a record but I was not very happy. I expected to walk under 22 minutes but the result was more than 23 minutes. I considered it a failure because I could not do it again as I am overage next year,” Quang told Việt Nam News .
A month later he finished third with a time of 1:37:03 at the National Athletics Championship’s 20km walk.
Despite his strong effort, Quang who suffered a leg injury, could not surpass senior athletes Nguyễn Thành Ngưng and Võ Xuân Vĩnh at the finish line.
“I was really nervous when competing against such experienced rivals although it was my second time. Ngưng and Vĩnh are my seniors and idols. They have won national and international medals,” said Quang.
“However, I have learnt many things from them. From what they knew, they told me how to get better. Ngưng used to tell me ‘effort does not make success immediately, but if you try hard you will make it’. I have pinned it in my mind and will work harder to get better. I will find success by the end of the road,” he said.
Despite the third-place finish, Quang has been tipped for a big future.
“We will invest in Quang with an expectation that he will bring home regional and continental victories and even further he could reach world level if possible,” said Lại Phúc Lộc, deputy director of the Hà Nội Sports and Training Centre.
“We have set plans to send athletes including Quang to compete in open events in Thailand and Singapore (when the COVID-19 pandemic is controlled). Our goal is that Quang will secure a berth in the national team and have a high result in the coming SEA Games,” he added.
It is a huge job for Quang to vie for the national team slot against tough opponents. Ngưng has won the national title for 11 years in a row along with a SEA Games bronze and became the first and only Southeast Asian walker to win an Olympic berth in 2016. The Đà Nẵng-based athlete has vowed not to retire until he wins a SEA Games gold.
Vĩnh is also a big challenge he has finished behind Ngưng many times. He has even outperformed Ngưng in the SEA Games with three silvers in 2013, 2015 and 2019.
The only thing that Quang has on his side is his youth. He will be 18 while Ngưng 29 and Vĩnh 30 at the coming Games.
“My current result does not push me to the national senior team. But it will be my target now. I will have to improve my strength and technique. I also have to decrease my time because I want not only to be part of the coming big tournament but also win a medal,” Quang said. VNS