Phi Thanh Thao.

Olympic champion Hoang Xuan Vinh has retired, and SEA Games winner Tran Quoc Cuong is now a coach. The Vietnam shooting team is now relying on its younger athletes, including 18-year-old Phi Thanh Thao, who was recently nominated as Best Young Athlete of 2022 at the prestigious Victory Cup.

The Hanoian markswoman made the shortlist after winning one gold and one silver in May's 31st SEA Games in Hanoi.

Shooting star

Born in 2004 in Hanoi's suburb district of Thach That, Thao was first recruited by the finswimming team when she was eight.

After six years of practising in the water, she found it unsuitable and quit.

After resting a while, Thao followed her cousin to his shooting club, where she found her real passion. Several weeks after practising just for fun, Thao decided to join the Military Shooting Team and has since become a pro.

"In my first competition for the junior athletes, I just wanted to test my skills. But I nabbed a gold medal. I thought I was good at shooting, while coaches encouraged me to pursue this sport. So I am a markswoman now," Thao said.

Familiar with the life of an athlete, Thao quickly integrated with the new environment and showed remarkable progress.

After winning domestic competitions, it took her only four years to top the regional podium.

"Shooting fits me. It is a sport but does not require a strong physique. Of course, the challenges and difficulties are obvious. The technique is tough. The rifle is pretty heavy," she said.

"It is difficult to carry, aim and shoot for a long time. Keeping focused on the target is not a simple job. Luckily, my strong effort and dedicated coaches helped me greatly. I gradually commanded the technique and earned a sweet result."

Her previous practice as a finswimmer partly helped her in shooting," said coach Nguyen Duy Hoang.

"Most finswimmers experience health benefits from holding their breath, which increases their lung capacity. When Thao practises shooting, her ability to hold her breath for a long time helps her maintain stable heartbeats before every shot."

Brilliant debut

Before the SEA Games, Thao was one of eight athletes in the mix for a gold medal, along with famed trio Ha Minh Thanh, Tran Quoc Cuong and Hoang Thi Tuat. But Thao felt the pressure, her results dipped sharply during practice, and she was in big trouble.

However, she returned to take silver in the 10m air rifle and gold in the 50m rifle. She became Team Việt Nam's youngest person to top the podium at the biennial Games.

"I prepared carefully for my first time, but when in competition, I was a little shaky. I was not glad about second place in the 10m air rifle. I made a strong push for the next one," Thao said. "I did not set any target but told myself to try my best in the second event. I was surprised I won gold but was happy with the title."

Coach Hoang praised his talented athlete, who needed only four years, just two-thirds of the time needed by other athletes, to grab such fantastic results.

Her achievement was more special as her rifle was old. The long gun was imported from Germany for the national team more than a decade ago. In the finals, she had to outshoot seven rivals with modern rifles made in Switzerland.

"Her victory proved that good guns only partly support athletes to win. The key was her bravery, determination and willingness," Hoang said.

Meanwhile, former national head coach Nguyen Thi Nhung who was in charge of the team at the Games said despite her young age, Thao had a strong competitive mentality and was calm, patient and focused.

Her gold medal was special as Vietnam had not won in this category in 30 years.

"It was three decades since our shooter Dang Thi Dong won the last 50m rifle for Vietnam. But Dong shot only three series of 20 bullets, while Thao was in a more difficult situation as she had to shoot three series of 40 bullets," said Nhung.

"She is considered one of the athletes in the team with the most potential. I believe she will get higher results going forward."

Thao is one of five athletes nominated for the Best Young Athlete of the Year, which will be announced in mid-January 2023.

“I am just 'normal good.' Many world athletes are younger but better than me," said Thao, who spends her free time cooking, tailoring, and caring for ornamental plants.

“I don't want to be a slave of a smartphone. When doing housework, I feel free, and my mind is at ease before returning to my passion. It will help me reach a higher level and earn better results in coming tournaments," she said. 

Source: Vietnam News