By Thanh Nga
Seven years on from her last SEA Games gold, ‘walking queen’ Nguyễn Thị Thanh Phúc topped the podium once again at the SEA Games 31.
The 32-year-old competed in the women’s 20km walking event, using all of her experience, bravery and preparation to overcome rivals from Myanmar and Thailand to finish first with a time of 1:48.10.
Phúc’s result helped Vietnamese athletics have a total of 22 gold medals, far exceeding their target of 15-17 gold medals.
“I have attended many SEA Games as well as larger events such as Asian Games and Olympics. Every time I compete, I feel honoured and proud to be a Vietnamese, representing my country. Of course, I always try my best, but to win gold for the first time, at home, bringing the glory to the country, I feel excited and emotional,” Phúc said.
“The victory in the Games 31 is a victory for many people, not just me. It was a long preparation process. After the COVID-19 pandemic, all athletes are eager to compete. A lot of people have given me hope and faith so this success means a lot for me,” Phúc added.
This is Phúc’s fourth medal at the regional biggest sports event after successes in 2011, 2013 and 2015.
After seven years of waiting, Phúc tasted victory at the region’s biggest sports event. She dedicated the gold medal to her daughter, her family and the people who have always supported, helped and motivated her to complete her mission.
At the 2019 Games in the Philippines, Phúc suffered an injury and a technical error, so she did not win a medal. Phúc’s teammate Phạm Thị Thu Trang had the honour of topping the podium.
This year, however, the result was the opposite. Trang made a technical error, so she was disqualified and lost the opportunity to defend her gold medal.
“I was not pressured before competing in this category. I was just a little worried about technique because walking has to focus on technique. If I get three cards, it will take two minutes to walk again, then it will be difficult. Walking is not like running, walking focuses on technique,” Phúc said.
At the age of 32, Phúc is one of the most enduring female athletes in athletics, competing for the past 19 years.
Phúc came to athletics by accident. At the age of 13, she followed her sister to the athletics field and caught the eyes of the coaches of the Đà Nẵng athletics team.
While walking in Việt Nam is still unfamiliar and garners little interest, Phúc always strove to make constant progress. She always tells herself that “the path to success does not have the footprints of the lazy people”, so she practices very seriously and regularly, regardless of sun or rain, morning or evening.
For her efforts, Phúc won four SEA Games gold medals in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2022. She also won Asian bronze medal in 2012 and Asian silver medal in 2013, earning a ticket to compete in the London Olympics 2012. At the national championship, she has had no opponent since 2006.
Nguyễn Thị Thanh Phúc (right) is one of the most enduring female athletes in athletics, competing for 19 years and counting. — VNA/VNS Photo Huy Hùng
Passion for walking
In training and competing in athletics for nearly two decades, Phúc experienced many successes but also many difficulties and hardships. At one point she even retired. At the end of 2016, after getting married to her long-time boyfriend Trần Viết Thắng and welcoming her first daughter, she retired.
Phúc said she intended to switch to coaching because she wanted to focus more on taking care of her family because of her age and no longer at the peak of her performance after giving birth. But because of her unending passion for athletics, Phúc then decided to compete again in early 2018.
She had to lose 32kg to fulfil her dream of winning the fourth gold medal at the SEA Games 30 in 2019 in the Philippines. However, luck did not come to Phúc as she suddenly got injured before the tournament.
“In 2019, I had a training trip in Mũi Né to prepare for the SEA Games 30. My training indexes at that time were very good, just like when I was unmarried. Therefore, I myself was very confident that I could win gold. Two months of training for me was a very long time because my daughter was just over two years old. I missed her so much. But after returning home to Đà Nẵng, I accidentally slipped and broke my left ankle,” Phúc recalled.
“At that time, the doctor advised me to stop competing, but when I got the news that SEA Games 30 only had 10km category, instead of 20km, so I tried to participate. At that time, the sports leaders advised me to stop, but I did not change my mind. I felt that I could still do it, whether I failed or succeeded, I myself would be responsible.
“I thought I would complete my race well, but my pain reappeared at the end of the race, causing me to be caught by the referee for a technical error and I lost gold.”
Following winning the gold medal at the Games 31, Phúc has no intention of retiring because there is currently no replacement.
“Of course, I have thought about turning to coaching, but not this year. However, it certainly won’t be long because of my age. What I want now is that more people will be interested in and know about walking, which can be developed in sports competitions such as running. Therefore, I always work hard at tournaments because if I have achievements, I can inspire young people to pursue this sport,” Phúc said.
“Every woman has a youth to keep. The youth of other girls is beautiful, but my youth is competing. Anyone who wants to remember me will type my name on Google and it will be saved forever. For me, that is the meaning I bring, but I never think that I lose my youth because I can’t go out with friends, can’t enjoy the joys of everyday life. My youth is the age to dedicate.” VNS