At first glance, few people would think she is a professional weightlifter, with her young face and bright smile.

“I am trying my best to have a ticket to the Tokyo Olympics 2021. If my dream comes true, I will be very happy because it is the event which every athlete wants the most,” Duyen said.

She said she uses most of her time to train.

“When I finish the main training lessons, I spend more time to train muscle or practice movements which I am still not good at,” Duyen added.

At the World Weightlifting Cup, a qualifier of the Tokyo Olympics, in Rome, Italy early this year, the Giay ethnic minority woman competed in the women’s 59kg and brought home three gold medals in the snatch with 97kg, the clean and jerk with 116kg and the total lift with 213kg.

The result was better than her recent best at last December’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games where she was crowned the champion in her debut.

Hoang Thi Duyen (centre) poses with athletes and officials at the Roma 2020 Weightlifting World Cup in Italy. Duyen won three golds in the women's 59kg class. (Illustrative image --  Photo of Hoang Thi Duyen)

The impressive achievement in Rome helped Duyen almost qualify for the Tokyo Games which will take place in July 2021.

According to the International Olympic Committee, athletes ranked 1-8 in the world of the women’s 59kg category will qualify for the Games in Japan and Duyen currently ranks sixth in the world.

Next March, Duyen will compete in the Asian Weightlifting Championship in Uzbekistan which is the last qualifying round for the Tokyo Olympics.

“I will make every effort to have the best results and win an official place,” said Duyen. 

Hard childhood

Duyen was born and raised in a poor family with three brothers in Dong Tuyen Commune, Lao Cai City. She was the only daughter and her parents often had to work far away to earn money to support her brothers' studies.

When her parents worked away from home, the siblings depended on each other. Even though Duyen was a girl, she also had to do heavy work, such as carrying firewood, carrying water, harvesting, raising buffalo or mowing grass to feed fish. Currently, her parents sell vegetables for a living.

Duyen began weightlifting when she was in grade 7 at Dong Tuyen Secondary School, Lao Cai City in 2009. At that time, coach Nguyen Cao Hung, who runs the weightlifting section of the provincial sports centre, went to schools in the province to look for young talents and found Duyen.

When visiting Dong Tuyen Secondary School, he discovered Duyen with the ideal body for weightlifting. And she hasn't looked back since.

"Actually, there are many sporting talents in Lao Cai, but talent alone is not enough. The essence of creating a champion, apart from natural talent, also requires passion and effort to overcome difficulties. Duyen is a rare athlete who has these qualities to become the regional and world champion in weightlifting,” said Hung.

Duyen’s parents were farmers and her family was poor so she even didn’t have a bike. Every morning, she walked to school and then to walk to the provincial sports centre at 2pm for weightlifting, walking more than 12km per day.

In this period of three months before she moved to live in the centre's dormitory, Duyen's parents opposed her pursuit of weightlifting.

According to Duyen, her parents worried she would be injured and that she had left home too soon. Duyen promised her parents that she would be determined to win the medal and if she didn't perform well, she would give up her sporting career.

With passion and hard work, Duyen made rapid progress.

At the National Youth Weightlifting Championship held in Thai Nguyen Province in 2010, Duyen competed for the first time and took one silver and two bronzes.

“It was the first time I participated in a competition and this achievement helped me convince my parents to follow weightlifting,” Duyen said.

“Duyen's most precious quality is perseverance and hard work, so she can acquire and master techniques, skills, as well as standard movements of weightlifting, especially the snatch. Also through practising, she has trained herself to be confident and always has aspired to rise. This is a necessary and sufficient condition for an athlete to achieve high results,” said coach Hung. 


Duyen has had a lot of success at the age of 24.

In the Asian Weightlifting Championship held in Uzbekistan in June 2016, she helped the Vietnamese women’s team win an Olympic place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In November the same year, in the Asian Youth Weightlifting Championship, she won two silver medals.

In 2017, Duyen suffered a serious knee injury ahead of the World Weightlifting Championship. With the choice of whether to have surgery and then rest for six months or a combination of practice and therapy, Duyen selected the second option.

According to Duyen, in her eight years of being a weightlifter, that was when she felt the most depressed.

However, with the encouragement of her family, coaches and teammates, Duyen came back and performed well at the World Weightlifting Championship 2018 held in Turkmenistan, winning a silver medal.

At the SEA Games last year, she bagged a gold medal and at domestic events, she is unmatched.

Duyen said a professional athlete's career is short and tough but it brings a lot of joy. Apart from medals, the joy sport gives her is to discover her limits and try to surpass them.

“Now I still try and work harder every day to achieve higher results,” she added.  VNS

Xuan Lam

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