The decision to send swimmer Nguyen Thi Anh Vien to the United States for long-term training five years ago has brought about a landmark of changes which has resulted in the formation of a model for discovering and training sport talents in accordance with international standards, featuring both subjective and objective factors.
Top Vietnamese swimmer Nguyen Thi Anh Vien
At the age of 15, the Can Tho-born swimmer emerged as a unique young talent of Vietnamese swimming. The proposition to provide special investment for Anh Vien was soon put forward, specifically relating to sending her overseas for training. This, however, required a financial condition of not less than US$100,000 per year, which exceeded the total annual budget subsidy for the swimming department. Fortunately, the idea was backed by leaders of the sporting sector immediately after it was proposed by the coaching staff, with two sides teaming up to cover the training expense for Vien – US$60,000 paid by the sporting sector and the remaining US$40,000 managed by Vien’s managing unit, the Army team.
In addition to talent, passion and adequate investment, the other necessary condition was Vien’s extraordinary adaptability and persistency with training procedures with international standards.
Six years ago, Anh Vien only completed her training at small swimming pools in her hometown. One year later when arriving in the US, she was most definitely overwhelmed by the serious training conditions there. It took her a long time to adapt herself to a severe and professional training structure of international standards, which featured such a strict diet that “eating was like a battle” Vien once remarked. In order to build up her strength, Vien had to practise physical exercises at the frequency and intensity of a multi-disciplinary athlete, from lifting weights to running on the treadmill. The most severe exercise was swimming upstream. Using a dedicated swimming lane equipped with a water propeller running at a high speed, the young Vietnamese talent had to attempt to swim upstream as far as possible and even suffered injuries as a result of the gruelling training a number of times.
Vien’s long-term training campaign was initiated amid concerns and worries expressed by those specialising in swimming. Previously, not many would have anticipated that a Vietnamese swimmer could approach the international level, which was due to a bad common foundation of Vietnamese swimming; it was seen as a miracle to win a medal at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games. However, up to now, the record investment (up to US$572,000) has demonstrated that it is worth every penny. Anh Vien has improved beyond initial expectations with spectacular achievements gained, including two bronze medals at the 2014 Asian Games, eight gold medals accompanied by eight new records at the 2015 SEA Games, one silver and one bronze medal at the 2015 FINA World Cup, and most recently the historic gold medal won at the 2016 Asian Championships.
At the 2012 Olympic Games, Vien only competed with the solitary goal of surpassing her own personal best. She was even speechlessly trembling at the time as she saw her US idol Michael Phelps outside the competing palace in London. But at the Rio Games four years later, she was able to fulfil the goal of breaking through to the finals in a confident fashion, and was actually only a mere 0.31 second away from it.
Vietnamese fans are still filled with disappointment when recalling Vien’s Rio performance. If only she had been introduced to the internationally standardised training procedure earlier than the age of 15, an Olympic medal could possibly have become a reality for the top Vietnamese swimmer.