Tran Le Quoc Toan and his most important medal, an Olympic bronze, which he received at the 2012 London Games. Photo

Tran Le Quoc Toan has a special place in his gym to hang the medals that he has collected over many years. Among them, the most precious is not gold but a bronze he earned 10 years ago, though it only arrived last month.

Toan was Vietnam's main medal hope at the 2012 London Olympics. The weightlifter was an Asian championship silver medallist, and his result of 279kg made him a favourite in the men's 56kg class.

In London, he made 284kg but could only finish fourth below Om Yun-chol of North Korea, Wu Jingbiao from China, and Valentin Hristov of Azerbaijan.

Hristov's result shocked Toan because the Azerbaijani's performance was way beyond what he did previously.

"I had several weeks practising with him before the Olympics, and I was surprised in London as he could lift 20kg more after just a few months," Toan said.

Late medal

Eight years later, Toan was suddenly bumped up to third place after Hristov tested positive for illegal drugs.

The Olympic bronze medal in the men's 56kg weightlifting event needed nearly a decade to find its owner. Photo

When Toan officially took his bronze, he was happy but also hurt because his life would have been very different if he had been honoured in 2012.

"It is a happiness for me. It is an Olympic medal. It came to me late but is still a valuable award," Toan told Việt Nam News when he received an additional bonus for his medal in late September in Hanoi.

"It is an honour for me, my coaches, family and Vietnam sport. It is the most important medal of my career. In late 2020, I was informed. I was happy and sad at the same time. Happy because I made a global achievement, but sad because I was unlucky.

"If I received my bronze at the Olympics, it would have been a strong push to overcome all my challenges and make my name in the world. My life and career would have had better chapters," said the 33-year-old, who is now past his prime.

As an Olympian in the top three, he would have garnered a special training regime, and his income would have been much higher.

Tran Duc Phan, deputy director of the Vietnam Sports Administration, agreed that if Toàn had been recognised as an Olympic medallist earlier, he would have received more support and investment as a world-class athlete.

Tran Le Quoc Toan performs in London Olympics in 2012. Photo

Toan was the only Vietnamese athlete to bag a medal at the London Games. His bronze was the second in Vietnam's weightlifting in history after a silver by Hoang Anh Tuan in Beijing in 2008. It was the fifth medal of the country in any Olympics.

After the London Games, Toan secured a berth at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016. However, things were never quite the same, and he finished fifth with a 275kg result.

In 2017, Toan won one gold and two bronzes in the Asian championship before one silver and two bronzes in the world championship.

Since then, Toan has aged and suffered injuries, which saw him not even make the national team.

Da Nang-born Toan eventually got married and moved to live in Hanoi for nearly 10 years. He opened a weightlifting gym in Dong Anh District to make a living.

Apart from practising himself, Toan also works as a coach for Da Nang, taking charge of the junior team.

"I have joined the coaching board. Under my reign, several youngsters have grabbed good results at the national championship for juniors. But I still need to learn more to do my job better," said Toan who was ranked No 3 in the world in 2011.

"When the national championship is organised, I practise intensively to participate. It will bring a good result for Da Nang and a bonus for my family and me."

Hope after bronze

Toan will be one of the oldest athletes to compete at the National Sports Games later this year, but the hunger is still there.

Tran Le Quoc Toan (left) receives his Olympic bronze and flowers from Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh in 2021. VNS Photo Quy Luong

He has confirmed participation in the 55kg category in Thanh Hoa Province. More than that, he wants a better result than four years ago when he took silver in Hanoi.

"I will compete in the National Games. I am preparing my best fitness and technique," he said.

Toan is the athlete with the best background but knows his rivals are tough. Among them, Lai Gia Thanh is the most difficult as he won gold and set a record at the 31st SEA Games in May.

"Thanh is one of the best athletes in my category. He has good technique and a solid mentality. It will be difficult to beat him," Toàn said of his far younger rival. "But I have my own plans. Hopefully, I will complete my task and show my best." 

Source: Vietnam News