With two world-class athletes on board, the Vietnamese delegation to the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games has high hopes to claim its first-ever medal in the event, set to commence next week in Rio.
The 11 athletes on the Vietnamese Paralympics team set off for Rio on Tuesday, just one week before next Wednesday’s opening ceremony.
Vietnam got a taste of its first Olympic gold last month with a record-breaking performance by shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh, but the country still holds a zero-medal record at Paralympic Games since the delegation’s debut at the 2000 event in Sydney.
This summer, Vietnam’s hopes at the Paralympics lay with weightlifter Le Van Cong and swimmer Vo Thanh Tung, both of whom are record-holders in their respective fields.
Cong was born with deformed legs that resulted from dengue fever contracted by his mother during pregnancy.
He left his hometown in the north-central province of Ha Tinh to move to Ho Chi Minh City at the age of 19 to escape poverty, bringing along only VND1 million (US$45), some clothes, and “a burning desire for a better life.”
Unable to stand, Cong still managed to work multiple labor jobs, ranging from sanding wooden products and fixing electronics to selling lottery tickets on the streets.
With his meager earnings, he was able to scrape enough money together to put food on the table and pay for vocational college.
Cong discovered his penchant for weightlifting by chance in 2005 when he was introduced to the sport by a friend.
Just a few short months later, he took home the national silver medal in the event.
Despite the lack of training equipment and constant worry over making ends meet, Cong is now a world record holder in the under-49kg weight class, able to bench-press 182 kilograms, nearly four times his body weight.
Facing Cong in this year’s Summer Paralympics are Omar Sami Hamadeh and Adesokan Yakubu from Jordan and Nigeria, respectively, both of whom have held world records over the past few years.
“My dream is to open a bodybuilding center to train and provide for my family,” the Vietnamese Paralympian disclosed when asked about what he would do with any money he might win for medaling at the event.
Weightlifter Le Van Cong during a practice session. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Meanwhile, swimmer Vo Thanh Tung is Vietnam’s biggest hope in Paralympic swimming events.
Tung’s latest achievement was a gold medal at the 2016 Funchal IPC Swimming European Open Championships, where he bested Brazilian swimmer Daniel Dias, winner of six golds at the 2012 Games in London.
Tung came down with polio at the age of four, which left him with weakened legs barely able support his body weight.
Tung’s wife is expecting their first child who they plan to call ‘Rio’ as a nickname to remember the Paralympian’s second participation in the Games.
“I have set my mind on a Paralympic medal to celebrate my child’s birth in September,” Tung said.
Swimming was Tung’s remedy for depression brought about by his disability, but now the sport has become Tung’s source of income and meaning in life.
“Vietnam earned its first gold at the Olympics, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t get one at the Paralympics,” Le Van Cong said, drawing inspiration from the success of shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh before embarking on his medal quest in Rio.