The Vietnam Sports Administration has made the controversial decision to force three athletes to face off against one another in order to select the best two swimmers for the men’s 1,500m freestyle competition at the 2017 Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia.
The race is set for Tuesday, less than two weeks before the competition begins on August 19.
All three of the young swimmers have achieved promising results at recent competitions, making it difficult to choose only two to represent Vietnam.
The 2017 Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) is the 29th edition of the biennial multi-sport event competed in by athletes from 11 countries in Southeast Asia.
The Games are set to run between August 19 and 30 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Ho Chi Minh City-based Lam Quang Nhat, 20, is the current SEA Games champion and record holder in the men’s 1,500m freestyle swimming event, having won two consecutive gold medals at the 2013 and 2015 competitions.
Fifteen-year-old rising star Nguyen Huu Kim Son, from southern An Giang Province, recently finished the 1,500m distance in under 15 minutes and 30 seconds at the 17th FINA World Championships in Hungary, breaking Nhat’s SEA Games record.
However, Nhat was not competing in the championships as he was focused on his training for the SEA Games.
The other contender is Nguyen Huy Hoang, 17, from north-central Quang Binh Province, who holds the current national record for the event with a time of just over 15 minutes and 30 seconds.
|From left: Lam Quang Nhat, Nguyen Huy Hoang and Nguyen Huu Kim Son. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
According to Vuong Bich Thang, director of the Vietnam Sports Administration, the three swimmers are scheduled to race on Tuesday as a way of separating the two best performers to represent their country.
The third-placed athlete will still be eligible to register for other swimming events at the SEA Games, Thang said.
“Though pitting our own swimmers against each other is not ideal, we have no fairer way of selecting the participating athletes than to rely on their performance,” Thang explained. “SEA Games rules allow only two registrations per country in each swimming event.”
Despite Thang’s explanation, sports experts in Ho Chi Minh City have voiced their objection to the race, which they said would not only be harmful to the athletes’ performance, but also create a precedent to be exploited later on.
In a letter sent to the Vietnam Sports Administration by the deputy director of Ho Chi Minh City’s Department of Culture and Sports, Mai Ba Hung pointed out that the race would be disruptive to the morale and solidarity of Vietnam’s team ahead of the competition.
Additionally, Hung wrote, the selection of athletes based on their performance just before the start of a sporting event would encourage the practice of training for the internal race rather than the actual competition, leading to fatigue and low performance in the main event.
“Nhat has proved his ability at two previous SEA Games competitions,” the letter read. “Therefore, Nhat is beyond confident and determined to make history by bringing home his third gold medal.”
Following the letter, Hung announced on Monday that the city would not allow Nhat to enter the race.
“We cannot allow Nhat to race, as it would hurt his performance in competition,” an official from the municipal swimming team told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Monday.
“Nhat is the standing SEA Games champion and record holder [in the men’s 1,500m freestyle event], so there’s no reason for him to have to compete for a spot against two swimmers with no history of achievement at previous SEA Games.”
The Vietnam Sports Administration said it had not been notified by Ho Chi Minh City authorities about Nhat’s withdrawal from the scheduled race.
The 20-year-old athlete could risk being struck off Vietnam’s list of SEA Games participants if he fails to show up for the race.
However, sports experts deemed the possibility of Nhat being eliminated from the competition as unlikely, as Vietnam would not risk coming to Malaysia without its best swimmers.