A serviceman and athlete ended Vietnam’s six-decade wait for the first Olympic gold medal on Saturday after acing the ten-meter air pistol event final at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, despite his myopia.
Hoang Xuan Vinh was born in 1974 in the small town of Son Tay in former Ha Tay Province (now Hanoi) in northern Vietnam.
Vinh took up professional pistol shooting in 1999 at the age of 25 after making a name for himself in his military unit thanks to his refined marksmanship.
Seventeen years later, the now military colonel has just made history for himself and Vietnam in Rio, winning the country’s long-awaited first Olympic gold medal since their debut at the sporting event in 1952.
Stories of amateur-turned-professional athletes are not rare in Vietnam, but few have shot to fame in such a short time as Vinh did, despite the circumstances he faces.
In 2000, one year after taking up professional shooting, Vinh bagged his first national gold medal and broke the national record at the same time.
A year later, Vinh earned his first gold at the biyearly Southeast Asian Games, signaling his unchallenged 15-year reign in the regional sporting event.
At the age of 38, the Vietnamese athlete topped the ten-meter air pistol event at the 2012 Asian Air Gun Championships in Nanchang, China, a result that earned him his first ticket to the Olympics held later the same year in London.
In 2014, Vinh broke the world’s record and snatched a gold medal at the ISSF Rifle and Pistol World Cup in the U.S., before going on to bring home his and Vietnam’s first-ever Olympic gold two years later in Rio.
How the steel was tempered
Vinh’s historic win is special in a number of different ways, the first being that the military man has previously been known for cracking under immense pressure at critical times.
At the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, in 2016, Vinh was leading the other athletes by four points in the rapid fire pistol category by the last round of shooting, but he missed his final shot and ended up being ranked 13th.
At the 2012 London Olympics, Vinh’s underperformance in the finals despite flying-colors qualifying results earned him only the modest 4th place.
In Saturday’s last shooting round, however, the audience saw a colder and more stable performance by the Vietnamese shooter, as he landed a near-perfect shot to outlast Brazil’s Felipe Wu after being led closely by the Brazilian Olympian.
It may come as an even more surprise to some to learn that the new Olympics champion is actually short-sighted that affects the stability of his performances.
Vinh said he would have other members of his team cheer loudly as he practices target-shooting in order to train his concentration.
The Olympics champion disclosed that he still had to shout aloud the line, “I’m an Olympic medalist” at the start of each of his practice sessions for pressure relief.
The colonel is happily married with two kids, though Vinh said he spends more time on the training fields than at home, a price one must pay as a world-class athlete.