The second Vietnamese athlete to earn a berth at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, 25-year-old Le Thanh Tung considers the postponement of the world’s largest sporting event an opportunity rather than a let-down.
Gymnast Le Thanh Tung, the second Vietnamese athlete to earn a berth at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games
“Even if tournaments are not taking place, I still practice every day,” he said in a hard-won telephone interview after his daily training routine in Hanoi.
Postponing the Games due to the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic is quite a dramatic twist for elite gymnasts like him, whose careers are believed to be much more rigorous and briefer compared to athletes in other sports.
Eyes on the prize
As Vietnam’s top male gymnasts, Tung and his teammates frequently take part in international competitions.
“I need to further fine-tune my moves and also get proper rest,” he said. “This helps me improve my performance and avoid major injuries so that I’m always ready for upcoming competitions.”
Tung revealed he now has one more coach, who is from the Republic of Korea, and added that training sessions have become more important for him.
Tung wins bronze at the 2019 Asian Gymnastics Championships (Photo: Le Thanh Tung's Facebook)
He secured a berth at the 49th International Gymnastics Federation (FIG)’s Artistic Gymnastics World Championship in Germany last October. According to FIG’s regulations, athletes need to be in the top three in each category in order to qualify for the Olympic Games.
Tung ranked fifth in the men’s vault final but booked his place because some of his betters in the final had already secured passage to the Tokyo Olympics in team events.
“I missed my chance in 2016 but am now able to realise my dream of an Olympics berth four years later,” the Ho Chi Minh City-born gymnast said. “This is one of the best moments of my career.”
Bitter leads to sweet
Many professional athletes spend a lot of time away from their families from early on in their childhood, and Tung is no exception.
Beginning his gymnastics career at the age of five, he went to train in China three years later and spent eight years in Vietnam’s northern neighbour.
“I’ve shed sweat and tears during training,” he remembers. “I was so young but had to do everything away from my family.”
“Those years were quite distressing. It takes a long time for gymnasts to achieve their goals, even though they start at a very young age.”
Calling it a day has crossed his mind, but such thoughts are always short-lived. He simply turns to his confidants for mental support and continues training.
People may endure a lengthy period of hardship for only a brief moment of fulfilment and delight but this feeling can be so rewarding and powerful that it transcends heartache.
Tung (centre) bags a gold medal at the 2017 Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Thailand - the first Vietnamese gymnast to bag a gold medal at the event
2017 was an unforgettable year for Tung, as he won gold at the 10th FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Cup in Doha, Qatar at the beginning of the year.
In May, he triumphed at the Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Thailand - the first Vietnamese gymnast to bag a gold medal at the event.
At the 29th Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Malaysia three months later, he secured three gold medals in the men’s vault, horizontal bar, and team event.
The title of outstanding male athlete in Vietnam during 2017 was the icing on the cake, he said.
“Practice makes perfect”
This proverb has been Tung’s motto for more than 10 years.
“Even if you have talent but if you don’t train, you will easily be overtaken by those who work hard,” he explained.
He has struggled in various competitions but this merely strengthened his mental fortitude and helped him learn how to deal with pressure.
“A gymnast's performance lasts only a short period of time, with everything decided in just a few seconds of twisting and turning in the air.
“My most formidable opponent is myself. I have to maintain concentration to perform well.”
Working everyday to raise the difficulty level of his skills, Tung targets qualifying for the men’s vault final in Tokyo.
Tung runs down a runway to perform his vault (Photo: news.zing.vn)
The 31st SEA Games may also be held in Hanoi next year - just three months after the Tokyo games.
“I will focus on what comes first,” he said when asked about the two dates being so close together. “Doing things step-by-step is more my style.”
“My coaches and I will figure out the right approach when the time comes.”
A sport that can change a life
Living with injury is part and parcel of life as a gymnast, and many compete while injured.
“In gymnastics, we can never hope to be injury-free,” Tung said. “The best we can hope for is that the injuries we inevitably pick up are only minor.”
He believes in doing your best and keeping in mind that if you lose at one tournament then there’s always a next time. But as many in the sport know well, a serious injury can end a career in an instant.
“Gymnastics is a dangerous sport, so gymnasts must closely follow the rules and guidelines,” he said.
“I was mischievous as a child and had a hard time getting along with others. Gymnastics, with its firm discipline, helped me become the best version of myself.”
“I believe that a gymnast must have courage, confidence, and composure.”
Gymnastics has also allowed Tung to meet many wonderful people, in particular the “teacher of his life”, referring to his coach Truong Minh Sang, who not only guides him in sport but also teaches him good manners and millions of other little things.
Tung (L) and his coach Truong Minh Sang pose for a photo when he wins gold at the 10th FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Cup in Doha, Qatar at the beginning of 2017 (Photo: vietnamnet.vn)
Tung also has a great deal of respect for two renowned Vietnamese gymnasts - Pham Phuoc Hung and Phan Thi Ha Thanh.
Both triumphed in international arenas after a long time struggling with injuries, becoming symbols of purpose and perseverance during times of great hardship.
“I have learned to be independent and mature thanks to my time in gymnastics,” he said. “It has changed my whole life.”./.VNA
Nguyen Tra My
The first Vietnamese athlete to clinch a spot in the country’s 2020 Tokyo Olympics team, swimmer Nguyen Huy Hoang then suffered the disappointment of seeing the world’s largest sporting event delayed by a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The postponement of the Olympics is considered good news for gymnast Le Thanh Tung who aims for a top result at the Tokyo Games.