The competition is set to resume after a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will take place on March 19th in Nomi, Japan.

Leading the charge for the Vietnamese team is veteran Nguyễn Thị Thanh Phúc and her promising young teammate Nguyễn Thị Vân, who will be competing in the women's category.

Meanwhile, the men's class will feature national champion Nguyễn Thành Ngưng and Southeast Asian winner Võ Xuân Vĩnh, both of whom are eager to make their mark on the international stage.

"We have made plans for the competition based on athletes' abilities," said Nguyễn Mạnh Hùng, general secretary of the Việt Nam Athletics Federation.

"The Nomi event is a chance for them to train and sharpen their technique and, if possible, reach their best to secure a berth at the coming Olympics in 2014," said Hùng, who has recently been voted deputy president of the Southeast Asian Athletics Federation.

In the past, multi-time SEA Games champion Phúc was the first Vietnamese walker to earn a place at the London Games in 2012. Phúc qualified for the world's largest sporting festival after she reached the standard from this walk race championship in 2011.

After Phúc, her younger brother Ngưng made his way to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 after being successful in the Asian championship in the same year.

Seven years have passed by, and Việt Nam, the top athletic team in ASEAN, is looking for their third qualified athlete at this year's tournament.

All athletes have been working hard in Đà Nẵng after the Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday.

Phúc and her teammates have shown their best form and are ready for the Japanese event.

"This is my first competition in 2023, and I am honoured to be a Vietnamese representative in this Asian championship," Phúc said.

"In three years of the pandemic, I had to train locally without international competition (except for the 31st SEA Games, which was also in Việt Nam). Going out for this championship, I am excited but also worried a little bit. 

"I am confident as an experienced athlete at the competition but can't ensure my ability. It has been three years since the last edition, and many things have changed. Many athletes have been improving. 

"The tournament will be tough as more than 200 walkers will join. At my age (32), it will be difficult to vie for a berth in the top three, but I hope to be in the top 10," said Phúc.

General Secretary Hùng said all countries' good preparation for the tournament and the higher Olympic standard were big obstacles for Vietnamese walkers. The coaching board did not set any target for the team but expected them to beat their own records.

In the latest international competition, the 31st SEA Games last May, Phúc won gold with a time of 1hr 48.10min; Vĩnh topped the podium at 1:32.32 while Ngưng finished third at 1:37.43.

In domestic events, Phúc (1:41.51) and Ngưng (1:31.54) won the National Sports Games titles; Vân claimed her first-ever bronze (1:45.46) while Vĩnh skipped the event in favour of the triathlon.

However, their results were far below international standards.

''Everyone wants to take the top podium, and so do I. Twelve years ago, I took a silver medal and qualified for the 2012 Olympics. It was the peak of my career, and to make the miracle happen again, I really need luck standing by my side," said Phúc.

She added that a time of 1:33.36 at the London Games, which is the national record, was her personal best. It will not be easy to do it again. The cold weather would be another challenge for the long-time national champion.

"I am not afraid of Asian rivals but of the cold. The temperature in Japan this month is sometimes below zero degrees. I hope that this time it will be better so that I can reach my target," said Phúc, who is based in all-year-round warm Đà Nẵng City.

The team will leave for Japan on March 16 for several days to check the route and familiarise themselves with the weather.

The continental championship will be a warm-up for Phúc and the rest of the team ahead of the nation's most important event, the 32nd SEA Games in May in Cambodia.

"It is almost two months till the SEA Games," said Phúc. "The Asian race will help me have a good competition feeling before the Cambodian meet, where I will defend my title. 

"I am not a star but an athlete who loves my job and my country. I have gained experience, confidence and lessons through competitions that I have taken part in and rivals I met. I told myself success would not come to a lazy, so I kept working hard every day.

"Hope that I will receive strong support and encouragement from people when I am walking in Japan!" — VNS