Olympic target slipping away as Games approach
Vietnamese athletes have only secured a quarter of the 20 qualification slots that sports bosses are aiming for at the Tokyo Olympics and with just four months left until the Games, the heat is on.
|Asian 400m champion Quach Thi Lan competes in the 30th SEA Games in 2019 in the Philippines. Lan is waiting for tournaments to secure her slot in the Olympics in Tokyo this July. Photo nld.com.vn|
The country fielded a squad of 23 athletes, nine men and 14 women, in 10 sports at the Rio de Janeiro version in 2016, when marksman Hoang Xuan Vinh brought the country's first gold medal and a silver medal home.
Reaching 20 qualifiers this time around has been tough for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest obstacle has been the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Tran Duc Phan, deputy head of the National Sports Administration (VSA), the plans for all teams have been totally changed, leading to great challenges.
Training camps abroad and qualification tournaments have been cancelled or postponed. Even domestic training has been affected as foreign experts could not enter Vietnam.
The lack of competition has led to poor results despite athletes best efforts.
The failure of the shooting team on the weekend was foreseeable due to these factors.
After Vinh’s success, the marksman was expected to qualify for Tokyo. But the Olympic champion could not maintain his form and his teammates on Saturday could not live up to his high standards and fell short of Olympic qualification.
“We are really worried at the moment because we don’t know if there are any tournaments held in the coming months or not,” said Duong Duc Thuy, head of the Administration’s Athletics Department.
“We just have the last chance at the world championship in Poland this May after many events have been killed due to COVID-19. The pandemic also creates problems with visa procedures and flight plans, and to date, we have not received a competition invitation from the organisers yet,” said Thuy.
Thuy, who had two representatives competing in three events at the last Olmypics, said the Olympics dreams of Vietnamese athletics looked far away.
There are higher hopes for the gymnastics team at the Asian championship in China in June.
“There are only two slots available at this event. Our hope is on Dinh Phuong Thanh, who won parallel bar gold medal at the Hungarian World Cup in 2016, he will face big obstacles there,” said coach Truong Minh Sang.
Meanwhile, Vu Thanh An is a promising fencer and is preparing for the Asian tournament in South Korea next month.
“An could not compete in tournaments to collect enough points to qualify for the Olympics. His last chance is the South Korean event which is a qualifier. A loss there means no Vietnamese fencer in Tokyo,” said Phung Le Quang, head of the Fencing Department.
Vietnam had four fencers competing in Rio 2016.
Swimmers Nguyen Thi Anh Vien and Hoang Quy Phuoc will have a chance to secure their slots in the National Age Groups Swimming Championship in May as the domestic tournament is an Olympic qualifier. If successful, Vien will compete in her third Olympics while Phuoc will swim for the second time.
The weightlifting team have three athletes, Thach Kim Tuan, Hoang Thi Duyen and Vuong Thi Huyen, in with a shot at Olympic slots thanks to their high positions in the world rankings.
They will take part in the Asian championship in Uzbekistan in April to strengthen their cases.
However, the whole squad are nervously waiting for the International Weightlifting Federation’s final decision on an Olympic ban for Vietnam after the country’s four doping violations in 2019 and 2020.
Tuan and Huyen were among four Vietnamese weightlifters who competed in Brazil five years ago.
Vietnamese wrestlers and martial artists are also in with a shot of qualifying.
“They (wrestlers and martial artists) can vie for high position in qualification rounds. The importance is how well they have prepared, and follow tactics during competitions. The winner is the one who combines everything best,” said Hoang Quoc Vinh, head of VSA’s Elite Sports 1 Department.
“Currently, international federations have restarted their tournaments. Wrestling will have Olympic qualifiers in Kazakhstan and taekwondo will come to the South Korean Asian championship, in April; judo will leave for Hungary world championship in May and karate will head to a qualifying event in France in June,” said Vinh.
The five athletes already qualified for the July 23-August 8 Tokyo Games are swimmer Nguyen Huy Hoang, gymnast Le Thanh Tung, boxer Nguyen Van Duong and archers Do Thi Anh Nguyet and Nguyen Hoang Phi Vu.
Though she's covered in sweat, Nguyen Thuy Linh keeps working hard. Vietnam's top female badminton player is back in training after Tet (Lunar New Year festival) to chase her dream of competing in the Tokyo Olympic Games.
At the Hanoi-based National Sports Training Centre, weightlifter Hoang Thi Duyen is training hard to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics next year.