Track champs to test abilities in new events

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SEA Games

Võ Xuân Vĩnh on the top podium of the men’s 20,000m walk at the 31st SEA Games. Vĩnh won Việt Nam’s first-ever title in this category. VNA/VNS Photo

Thanh Hà

Võ Xuân Vĩnh walked the final steps to cross the finish line and went straight to his wife and hugged her tightly to celebrate his SEA Games gold medal.

It was his first title at what was his fifth time participating in the regional sports meet. He had received strong encouragement from friends and family, especially his wife and two daughters, making the moment even sweeter.

The first celebration was also his last in this event as Vĩnh plans to challenge himself in a new sport, triathlon.

Some days earlier, army man Nguyễn Văn Lai completed his double titles, marking his comeback in the men’s 5,000m and 10,000m events.

However, his successful return might be his last because he has set his eyes on competing in the marathon.

Time to switch

“This victory is for my wife. She accompanied me all the time, staying behind me in all activities, helping me a lot during my practice and flying here to support me,” Vĩnh said.

Born in Đà Nẵng City’s Hòa Vang District in 1990, Vĩnh has been involved in walking since he was a little boy.

Vĩnh has been one of the best athletes in the walk race for almost a decade. However, he has never won the national championship and has been under the shadow of talented Nguyễn Thành Ngưng, also from Đà Nẵng, who has topped for 12 years in a row.

Vĩnh, however, has always excelled in the SEA Games.

While Ngưng could only take bronze at the 2011 Games, Vĩnh secured silvers in 2013, 2015 and 2019.

He has been dubbed the ‘King of Second Place’ due to his consecutive silvers in the last three Games.

The 31-year-old athlete finally reached the top podium at the Games in May, and he put an end to his unwanted nickname, winning Việt Nam’s first men’s title in walk race history at the Games.

“I expected a lot in this SEA Games on home turf after all the silvers previously. I was left behind for some period in the tournament, but finally I made it,” Vĩnh said.

“This is my most successful SEA Games but will be the last one I competed in the walking race. I want to test my ability in the triathlon.

“I first practised swimming before moving to walking so that will not be a big problem. Walking and running are the same in some techniques. Running will definitely not be my concern. But biking is. I will have to work hard on that,” he said.

His plan has received strong support from the domestic triathlon and duathlon community which has been developing in recent years.

SEA Games duathlon champion Phạm Tiến Sản clapped his hands on Vĩnh’s intention and said: “It is a great idea! Welcome ‘on board! Try hard, mate!”

Vĩnh remains keen on getting into a new discipline.

“I hope that I will have a chance to compete in the next SEA Games and be a Việt Nam representative in the triathlon,” he said.

Quit but not retired

Army man Lai failed to defend his title in both 5,000m and 10,000m in the 2019 Games in the Philippines, losing to Thailand’s America-born runner Kieran Tuntivate.

Nguyễn Văn Lai competes in the men’s 10,000m event at the 31st SEA Games on May 17. VNA/VNS Photo

Lai did not even think about taking his crown back in this year’s Games because Tuntivate has set a new Asian record in the 5,000m event in February. But, unexpectedly Tuntivate suffered an injury a day before the race and had to withdraw.

“I was a little lucky that my strong rival from Thailand could not compete. My result in this Games was not as good as expected. Because of Tuntivate’s absence, I didn’t have that extra competitiveness. But I was pleased with my gold medal,” Lai said of his fourth SEA Games 5,000m title on May 15.

Two days later, he met almost no difficulty winning the 10,000m event, his fourth victory at the regional sports meet.

“I was so happy for this gold. It was so moving to see many people — supporters, family and leaders — watching me cross the finish line. This victory was so meaningful to me,” Lai said.

He initially had thought he could not win gold at the age of 36, therefore, after the victories, he decided to delay his retirement plan.

“I believe that I will not be strong enough to run in these two events at the 2023 Games. But I might move to run in the full marathon,” he said.

“I want to test my ability and see my limitations, so the marathon is a good choice. Switching to a new event is also a way to renew myself and make a strong force to step forward.”

Nguyễn Văn Lai cheered with his supporters on his way to the finish line of the men’s 5,000m event at the 31st SEA Games on May 15. VNA/VNS Photo

The Thanh Hóa Province-born soldier ran at the VnExpress Marathon’s half marathon event in Huế City in April, which he considered a test for his SEA Games competition, and successfully took top prize with a time of 1hr 10min 36sec.

“I will take part in one or two marathon events, and if the results are good, I will set my plans. And if it is possible, you may see me in the marathon at the next Games in Cambodia,” he said. VNS

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