Teen karate champion focuses on SEA Games after Asian success

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Hoàng Thị Mỹ Tâm (left) tries to land a kick on a teammate during a training course of the national karate team. Photo webthethao.vn

Thanh Hà

After making a bang for Việt Nam at the recent Asian Karate Championship, teenager Hoàng Thị Mỹ Tâm has set her eyes on winning her first Southeast Asian (SEA) Games title in Hà Nội this May.

The 18-year-old shocked the Asian community when she won gold in both junior and senior categories, in individual and team events, at the championship in Almaty, Kazakhstan, last December.

In three days, Tâm defeated fighters to win the women’s U21 55kg class, senior 55kg pool and team 55kg categories to be one of the best athletes at the tournament.

Her achievement, according to head of the Karate Department of the Việt Nam Sport Administration Vũ Sơn Hà, is a special record for Việt Nam.

Vietnamese hope

Tâm was excited and could not wait to compete at the Asian championship where she registered in three events for the first time. A 24-hour transit flight from Hà Nội to Almaty did not tire her but left her eager to train and prepare for her fights.

Hoàng Thị MỹTâm poses with her three gold medals grabbed at the Asian Karate Championship in the UAE in 2021. Photo courtesy of Hoàng Thị Mỹ Tâm

“There was a little pressure for me prior to the tournament as I was competing in all three events. But I was happy because I was the chosen one,” said Tâm.

Tâm was incredibly busy with the timetable of the tournament. She fought consecutively for three days and had only a few hours rest between bouts.

“I suffered a right foot injury in the U21 semi-final match. But I still fought hard and tried to win all my matches,” said Tâm who beat Ku Tsui-ping of Chinese Taipei in the senior final. Ku is an experienced martial artist with several Asian championship titles under her belt.

“In karate, the quality of athletes in the juniors and seniors is totally different. It is very rare to see a young athlete who can win at both levels,” said national head coach Lê Tùng Dương.

“Tâm is more than amazing as she made a début and beat a rival who has rich experience in fighting and has won several continental crowns.”

Prior to the Almaty competition, Tâm won bronze, silver and gold at the Asian youth karate championship in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively, along with two ASEAN championship titles in 2018 and 2019.

“I really don’t have any secret for success but I work hard and try my best in all matches. I think it is my free and comfortable mind that helps me fight well,” said Tâm, who believes she still needs to improve a lot.

Hard work

Tâm was born in Hà Tĩnh Province in 2003 and was inspired to practise karate after seeing a friend’s performance. At the age of 13, she was recruited for the provincial team. The talented girl needed just four years to become a national team member.

Hoàng Thị Mỹ Tâm is one of Việt Nam’s top hopes at the coming SEA Games in May in Hà Nội. Photo webthethao.vn

“She showed her potential when I first saw her. I was impressed with her ability to jump vertically and move freely. She was also a serious and hard-working trainee in my class,” said coach Võ Mạnh Tuấn.

“She was always the last person leaving the class and spent more time on the hard skills. In just one year, she won a national gold medal. She was one of the best athletes in my team and did not disappoint.”

National coach Dương said Tâm had an iron competitive spirit. She could switch tactics really well to be suitable for the development of the match and the abilities of her opponents.

“She is good at punches, kicks and throws. She is an agile athlete and leaves her rivals surprised with her technique,” Dương said.

Things, however, were not simple for Tâm in the first days of becoming a professional.

“When you are at home you can rest whenever you are tired. But when you are in a team you must have discipline. Sometimes, I was exhausted with training exercises while injuries became normal as karate is a fighting sport,” Tâm said.

The difficulties and stresses became bigger challenges once Tâm became a national team member.

“It is high pressure to have good results and vie for a top position in the national team. I used to want to quit. But luckily, my parents supported and encouraged me to be patient. Now I have today’s small achievement,” Tâm said.

Tâm joined the national team in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading widely in Việt Nam. The outbreak caused a lot of problems for all sportspeople.

The Asian karate championship in 2021 was the first tournament that Tâm, who turned 19 early this month, had taken part in for two years.

Hoàng Thị Mỹ Tâm (first right) and teammates of the national karate team. Việt Nam targets a top three position in karate. Photo courtesy of Mỹ Tâm

Her golds helped her become one of the top 10 best athletes of the year at a vote last month, which she considers a strong push for her going forward.

Next month, Tâm will take part in a pre-SEA Games tournament to vie for a berth in the SEA Games team. If she makes it, it will be Tâm’s first time competing at the regional biennial tournament. She also hopes to make the Asian Games in China in September for the first time.

Tâm is one of the country’s most promising athletes and if she gets the right support, the sky is the limit. — VNS

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