Duong Duc Thuy, former head coach of the National Athletics Division. Photo by VnExpress/Nam Anh
Vietnam’s poor performance at the Games in China resulted in no medals in any athletics event. The result disappointed the nation after Vietnam won one gold, two silver and three bronze medals in the athletics events at the 2018 Asian Games.
“I was shocked because I didn’t expect such a deterioration in Vietnamese athletics,” Thuy said. “We used to have a good foundation, but then we became inconsistent and lost focus. We kept talking about the difficulties, but we didn’t understand the causes or find solutions.”
At this year’s Asian Games, Vietnam has placed its highest expectations in the women’s 4x400m event as the national team not long ago won the gold medal at the Asian Athletics Championships (AAC ).
Even though the team at these Games finished in 3 minutes and 31.61 seconds, faster than when they won the AAC (3 minutes and 32.36 seconds), it still wasn’t enough to win a medal.
“We faced very strong opponents,” Thuy said. “Our athletes and tactics remained the same, but the levels of our opponents were above us. Bahrain finished first in 3 minutes and 27.67, while we never went below 3 minutes and 30 seconds.”
He went on to explain that two young athletes were under pressure.
“I am also concerned about Nguyen Thi Huyen’s case. His strength is not the 400m relay, but they still made him compete. [in that event]. They should let her concentrate on our key event which is the women’s 4×400.”
Star runner Nguyen Thi Oanh also faced the same problem, as she had to compete in too many different events instead of focusing on just one, according to Thuy. As a result, she failed in all three events and was unable to medal, he said.
Nguyen Thi Oanh almost finished last in the 3,000m at the 19th Asian Games in China. Photo by VnExpress/Linh Huynh
These results were also particularly disappointing as Vietnam dominated and won at SEA Games 31, and also finished second at SEA Games 32. However, they placed behind other Southeast Asian teams at the Asian Games in This year.
Thuy pointed out another reason for this sharp drop:
“Vietnam plays its own game. Other countries’ athletics federations have complete control while we are still state-run. The result is poor facilities and poor quality of competition. I’m in Singapore now and I see their high school operating.” The track is equivalent to our provincial level arena. Their high schools have standard tracks for running, hammer throwing and discus throwing, as well as gymnasiums and instructors. “
In Vietnam, even the national sports training center does not have such facilities, he pointed out.
“If you go [the center] Today you can still see the old rusty equipment that we used for training decades ago,” Thuy added.
He also compared the difference between the previous generation of athletes and current Vietnamese competitors.
“Nowadays, athletes don’t have much conscience. When I was still competing, I recorded and kept track of everything I did. No athlete does that now. In the past, when we lost, we often reflected on ourselves to find out the reasons. But today, when they lose, they do nothing. Back when we were training, we read everything we could to help us improve The new generation doesn’t do that, even if they have the Internet, smartphones and tablets.
Some critics said Vietnamese athletics struggled at the Asian Games due to poor nutrition and low budgets allocated to local sports programs.
“Nutrition is a big factor,” Thuy said. “At the moment we eat to be full instead of eating healthy. Top athletes need a very strict diet. We can’t feed athletes like normal people. Don’t just get full, but eat well, get good food suitable for competitors. Regarding our financial problems, we must actively promote sports programs, actively find resources, and not rely only on the budget provided by the state.
Nguyen Thi Huyen and Nguyen Thi Hang (in red) of Vietnam during the women’s 4×400 race at the 19th Asian Games in China. Photo by VnExpress/Linh Huynh
The future of Vietnamese athletes looks bleak in Thuy’s eyes, as the next generation of runners is nowhere to be found.
“To be honest, we have nothing to look forward to at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. None of our athletes have reached the standard qualifying time. What worries me the most is the 2025 SEA Games in Thailand. The host is our number one competitor and they will leave us far behind. Our athletes will then be old and we will have no replacements,” he said.
The former coach suggested some solutions that could improve Vietnamese athletics in the long term.
“First of all, we need to reflect on our failure. Stop making excuses,” Thuy said. “People say that our athletes were sick and therefore could not perform well. Why didn’t you say that before the competition, so that everyone could understand and sympathize?”
Second, he said Vietnam needed to ensure athletes were professional and committed.
“For older athletes, we should ask them if they are really determined to continue so that we can invest properly. We have to be strict with the athletes. A team is like an army and the athletes are the soldiers. Without discipline, there is no power.”
Finally, Thuy argued that leaders of athletic programs also need to be more accountable.
“When I was head of the division, a reporter asked me how many medals we would win at the SEA Games and I told him the exact number. He asked me what if I didn’t make it, and I I replied that I would stop… It can be very dangerous if the leaders do not take their responsibilities.”
One of the current problems in Vietnamese athletics is finding new talents and encouraging children to develop their passion for sports.
“If we want to find athletes aged 11 to 12, we need to start at the school level and work with our physical education teachers…most kids love football these days and idolize the star players.”
But, according to Thuy, Vietnamese sports programs fail to promote the image of their athletes.
“The Vietnam Athletics Federation doesn’t even have a division for this. I think we need to make athletes famous, like beauty queens, and get them to do charity work and interact with young people. If we succeed, we can foster the love for athletics among the younger generation, like what Singapore did with star swimmer Joseph Schooling,” he said