While running long distances on a flat surface is tough work, tackling obstacles on the track poses a much bigger challenge.
Vietnamese runner Đỗ Quốc Luật has been running, hurdling over barriers and leaping across water pits every day for the last month to get ready for his fourth SEA Games in May.
Luật is defending his 3,000 steeplechase title and expects to reach new heights as the race is in his home town for the second time.
“I have loved to run since I was a little boy and would watch people running on TV all day,” said Luật, a resident of Kim Lan Village in Hà Nội’s Gia Lâm rural district.
It was no surprise when he represented his school to compete in the city’s sports tournament and was soon picked to be a professional runner.
“I became a member of the Military Team in 2008 after winning the city tournament’s silver. To run like a pro is not easy. It requires a lot of sweat and tears, and even blood. Training in the strictly disciplined environment of the army has made me a stronger and tougher athlete,” Luật told Việt Nam News.
Luật first trained in 5,000m and 10,000m events, and it took him two years to win his first gold medal at the national youth athletics championship in 2010 when he was 17.
He was promoted to the national team and competed in the first SEA Games in 2015, where he finished fourth in both the 5,000m and 10,000m events.
A turning point came in 2016 when coach Nguyễn Văn Sỹ asked him to switch to a new event, the 3,000m steeplechase, which consists of 35 fixed barriers and seven water jumps, and is hugely physically taxing.
“It seemed that he saw something in me suitable for this tough event. And he was right,” said Luật, whose results improved remarkably over just a few months.
“Unlike other running events, runners must work on different techniques simultaneously in the 3,000m steeplechase. You have to run fast first, of course, but you also have to perfect your legs to jump over barriers and water and work on your landing. The obstacles are the main reason for our falls and injuries.”
Luật represented Việt Nam at the 2017 SEA Games and won a bronze medal. Two years later, he successfully found the top of the podium.
“Before the 2017 Games, I won a gold in an international tournament in Thailand but suffered a heel injury so that even my SEA Games bronze was a surprise,” said Army Captain Luật.
“My gold in 2019 showed my hard work with my time much better. And it was great that I became the first Vietnamese to win this event in SEA Games history.”
Challenges at the SEA Games
Việt Nam’s athletics team have dominated the regional Games for two editions in a row, thanks to the development of a host of top local talent.
These young athletes are also threat to Luật if he wants to take top place again.
Last December, Lê Tiến Long dethroned Luật at the 2021 National Athletics Championship.
Other challengers include national record holder Nguyễn Trung Cường and the rising Lê Trung Đức, who took the 2020 championship title when Luật was out of action.
“I was shocked, and it was a bitter loss to me. But I think it is natural that someone will replace me in the top position someday,” said Luật.
“It is great for Việt Nam that we still have quality athletes to shoulder the national duty internationally. Their threats will create a competitive tournament and be a strong push for me to strive harder to improve myself and defend my position,” said Luật.
Aside from the challenge of young locals, runners from other ASEAN nations are also eyeing the top spot.
“We work hard for golds, the same they do. We get better, and they do too. The SEA Games is always a tough tournament that lures the region’s best athletes. If we do not hit our peak, we know we will be pushed down,” the 29-year-old said.
Hà Nội in May will be sweltering while the Mỹ Đình Stadium is a very windy venue, which will make for tough conditions for athletes to hit their peak.
Luật, however, has proved he deserves a slot at the upcoming Games as he was the No 1 athlete in the 3,000m steeplechase at a pre-tournament. He left Long behind, and his time of 8.59min was better than his SEA Games gold medal time of 9:04.50.
Luật’s SEA Games campaign received a strong boost when he won his eighth title at the Tiền Phong Newspaper National Marathon Championship’s 10,000m event in March.
“It is a great push for me in terms of spirit and preparation for the SEA Games, which is in about a month,” Luật said.
“My first target will be defending my gold medal. And if possible, I would like to mark a personal milestone in my career on home turf.” VNS