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After winning silver at two consecutive SEA Games in the women’s 800m event, Khuất Phương Anh finally topped the podium at the SEA Games 31.
The 25–year–old proved her power with a last-gasp sprint over the final 130m, pulling clear of the competition to finish ahead of the pack.
Her time of 2:08.74 wasn’t her best-ever finish, but it was enough.
“Right now, I’m still in a state of joy and happiness because I have won the SEA Games gold medal for the first time,” Anh told Việt Nam News.
“This gold medal will be a driving force for me to compete well in the upcoming international events,” Anh added.
At the finish line, Anh burst into tears of joy. At the last two SEA Games in 2017 and 2019, she lost only to teammates Vũ Thị Ly and Đinh Thị Bích. Along with the pressure of competing was the fear of injury.
“I am an athlete with many injuries. My training results were better than the results of gold medalists at the previous Games but, unfortunately for me, I always seem to be injured for the Games. This time, my coach Nguyễn Thị Bắc and I had better coordination, avoiding serious injury before the competition. I’m very happy that I finally fulfiled my promise to my coach,” Anh said.
Bắc has coached Anh since 2014 and experienced many ups and downs with her. Bắc said Anh was injured before the SEA Games 31 but it was not too seriously.
“Thanks to the care of the team’s doctors, Anh was able to get some relief. No matter how difficult it was, she always tries her best,” Bắc said.
Anh did have to treat her previously-herniated disc just before the race, but it obviously worked — the newly crowned SEA Games champion revealed that she knew she would finish with gold after just 300m.
Lê Thanh Hoa, Anh’s mother said that she was very happy and surprised with her daughter’s achievement, and revealed that she had intended to prevent Anh from playing sports because of the number of injuries she had suffered.
Hoa said that her family also didn’t like the idea of their daughter pursuing athletics instead of a more stable career, but with the encouragement of coaches, Anh gave up the idea of returning home and was determined to become a professional athlete.
Anh was born in 1997 in Phúc Thọ Town, Hà Nội. She started to train in track and field in 2010 when her talent was first discovered. She joined the Hà Nội athletics team two years later. In 2014, she was called up to the national team.
Despite having won the national championship for four years in a row, every time she prepares for the SEA Games, she is injured and couldn’t put in her best performance.
For Anh, the first SEA Games gold medal has solved her ‘thirst for gold’ after 10 years of pursuing professional athletics. She has achieved her biggest desire.
Anh’s strong point now is 800m, but earlier, she competed in the 400m.
“Before that, I raced in the 400m, but after joining the national team in 2016, I changed to compete in the 800m event because those categories had very strong players such as Nguyễn Thị Huyền and Quách Thị Lan,” Anh said.
Coach Bắc said: “In the first days of training for the new event, Anh was very stressful. I had to increase the distance little by little, but I didn’t dare to increase it too much because transitioning from short to long-distance is hard and requires the runner to train endurance. Finally, Anh succeeded.”
Anh made an impressive debut in the track and field, winning two gold medals at the 2016 Asian Youth Athletics Championship in the 400m individually and 400m relay. She also competed in the World Youth Athletics Championship in 2016.
In 2017, Anh was called to the national team to attend the first leg of the Asian Grand Prix in China. Although she only finished sixth in the 800m, she qualified for the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia, where she won silver in the 800m.
At this year’s Games, Anh also participated in the 1,500m event and won silver, finishing 12 seconds behind gold medalist Nguyễn Thị Oanh.
Overcoming difficulties and with a passion for running, Anh — the star girl of Vietnamese athletics — won regional gold at the age of 25 in the regional event. It is expected that she will continue to be the nation’s gold medal hope in upcoming international events.
Following the SEA Game 31, Anh had a week off before returning to training at the Hà Nội-based National Sports Training Centre for the International Athletics Tournament–Việt Nam Open, to be held in HCM City on June 20-25. VNS