quenching Vietnam’s 32-year thirst for its next boxer to attend the world’s largest sporting event.

From small teen to “natural born killer”: A Vietnamese boxer’s journey to Tokyo Olympics hinh anh 1

Vietnamese boxer Nguyen Van Duong is heading to Tokyo next year after defeating the renowned Chatchai-decha Butdee from Thailand in the Olympics qualifiers in Jordan in March. (Photo courtesy of Nguyen Van Duong)

The country has longed for something like this to happen since boxers Dang Hieu Hien and Do Tien Tuan both competed at the Seoul Games in 1988 as wild cards.

Sweet revenge

Unseeded Duong started his fight against third-seeded Butdee like a hurricane, showering his opponent with a slew of fast and powerful jabs that left his Thai rival gasping for air. In the first 47 seconds of the opening round he floored the Thai famous boxer twice, winning an automatic victory under the new rules of the tournament.

This earned him a bronze in the men’s featherweight category (52-57kg) and an all-important Olympic berth. It was such sweet revenge, as he was beaten by Butdee himself in the SEA Games finals last year.

“He was not at his peak, as his previous match was quite tiring,” Duong humbly told the Vietnam News Agency. “I lack his experience, so I told myself I had to knock him out to not lose.

“The victory means a great deal to me. It’s like a big staircase leading me to new heights and taking me to a much larger arena.”

But the Olympic berth did not come as easily as it may seem, as the road to success has been quite a long odyssey for the tough fighter.

Small but lethal

Duong is smaller than most boxers. From northern Bac Giang province, he looked nothing like an Olympian-in-waiting when he discovered the sport of boxing in 2009 at the age of 13, weighing just 32 kg and standing shorter than average.

“I followed my cousin to a boxing class the Public Security team in Hanoi held,” Duong said. “They initially said no because of my stature, but Coach Nguyen Anh Dung saw my effort and qualities and gave me a chance.”

His parents were concerned about him when he first began to box. “But they never made it too hard for me,” he said. “They didn’t push me to do what they wanted, and were always supportive of my decision to box.”

Duong said there was a time, in 2012, when he wanted to give up boxing, after suffering successive losses. Believing he and boxing were “not meant to be”, he did indeed quit.

“But after just a week I couldn’t stand it anymore, and called my mum to say I was going back to Hanoi for training.”

“It’s your decision,” she replied. “You have to do the best you can.”

“And I eventually made it!”

From small teen to “natural born killer”: A Vietnamese boxer’s journey to Tokyo Olympics hinh anh 2

Boxer Nguyen Van Duong of Vietnam (right) punches Jenel Lausa of the Philippines at the Victory 8 event last October in Hanoi. (Photo courtesy of Nguyen Van Duong)

Duong claimed three titles at junior national championships and two others at open tournaments in the featherweight category before joining the national team in 2015.

He won a silver at the SEA Games in the Philippines last December, and has grabbed three wins by points in three semi-professional bouts and won by knockout in his only professional bout. Duong also fought in a number of international events, including Victory 8.

 

Legendary Australian trainer Dave Hedgcock called Duong a “natural born killer.” “He’s something special,” Hedgcock said.

The Vietnamese boxer idolises Canelo Alvarez, a Mexican boxer best known for his superior offensive skills and described as an “unstoppable tank”.

There is a common misperception that weighs heavily upon Duong – that boxers are as dangerous and aggressive outside the ring as they are in it.

“That stereotype is completely wrong,” Duong said. “People don’t know me as a person. They only know I’m a skilled fighter and think that I love showing off my skills.”

“Though I’ve been doing this for many years now, I don’t get into fights easily. It’s just not cool to hit others or be hit.”

“Inside the ring, I can be a combative warrior. I have had many coaches and they all told me I look like I’m about to kill someone when I step into the ring. But in real life, I’m just a normal person - cheerful, friendly, and actually quite gentle.”

“My mum sometimes teases me that I would make a good hen-pecked husband,” he said with a laugh.

From small teen to “natural born killer”: A Vietnamese boxer’s journey to Tokyo Olympics hinh anh 3

Boxer Nguyen Van Duong of Vietnam at the Victory 8 event last October in Hanoi. (Photo courtesy of Nguyen Van Duong)

Sticking to the goal

The on-going COVID-19 outbreak has forced most sporting events into a hold, but Duong has managed to stick to a tight training schedule of six days a week.

His normal day starts at 6am, training with coaches. As boxing is one of the most physically-demanding sports, there are long sessions of running and weight-lifting in the morning to help him increase his endurance and strength.

In the afternoon, he focuses on shadow boxing and heavy bag work, and studies the technical side of things.

For Duong, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics being moved to next year is good news. “I think it is good for me because I will have more time to sharpen my skills, like speed, strength, and tactics,” he said.

“There is one more year to go, so I’m working extra hard on technique and tactics right now.”

“I will give my best shot. Every match will be a final for me.”

“My greatest strength is that I am more determined than others.”/.VNA

Pham Le Khanh Ly

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