A form slump did not strip Vietnamese swimmer Nguyen Thi Anh Vien of strong investments from the country’s sports administrators, who continued to approve costly training programs for the two-time Olympic player, only to expect her to bring home another gold medal haul from a regional competition.
Vien may have a tall list of achievements, including one silver and two bronze medals at the 2015 FINA Swimming World Cup and an Olympic debut in London 2012, under her belt, but her current form is all but worrying.
Despite this, the Vietnamese sporting administrators apparently never stop keeping faith in Vien, one of the country’s top athletes.
The 1996-born swimmer finished the 2018 Asian Games (Asiad) in Indonesia, where she was among Vietnam’s medal hopefuls, empty-handed.
Most invested athlete
In preparation for the upcoming SEA Games, Vien and her coach Dang Anh Tuan already left for the U.S. on March 8 for training, according to the General Department of Sports and Physical Training.
The general department said the total investment for the training of Vien this year is estimated at US$170,000-180,000, even higher than the total amount spent for the national track-and-field team, whose members are expected to win 13-15 gold medals at the region’s biggest sporting competition.
Vien alone bagged eight golds and two silvers at the 2017 Games in Malaysia, and the sporting administration apparently hopes that she will better, or at least repeat, this success in the Philippines later this year.
Considered a ‘treasure’ of Vietnam’s swimming, Anh Vien’s talent was spotted and polished by the military’s sporting unit when she was only 11 years old.
It is safe to say that Anh Vien is the most invested athlete in Vietnam’s sporting history so far.
Vien has been regularly sent to the U.S. for training since 2012 with annual budget of several Vietnamese billion dong, funded by both the General Department of Sports and Physical Education and the military sporting unit. (VND1 billion = $43,000)
Last year as much as $350,000 were spent for Vien and coach Tuan to best prepare for the Asiad campaign, where the 23-year-old swimmer was expected to strike gold while she eventually failed to do so.
|Nguyen Thi Anh competes in an event at the 2018 National Sporting Festival in Hanoi in December. Photo: T.P / Tuoi Tre|
All for a few SEA Games golds
While Vien’s latest disappointing competition outside Vietnam is the 2018 Asian Games, her slump of form in fact began as early as mid-2017, when she repeatedly fell from her 2015-16 peaks.
Some insiders even thought that it is time for another coach to replace Tuan, who has been with Vien over the last eight years.
Nguyen Trong Toan, who has just retired as head of the swimming division at the general department of sports on March 1, said the sporting body did intend to rearrange Anh Vien’s practice schedule with fewer U.S. training trips, given her worryingly poor performances in recent times.
However, the incumbent head of the general department, Vuong Bich Thang, said it “takes time” to reduce investment on Vien.
Thang said Vien will return to Vietnam from the current training trip in the U.S in July, before leaving for South Korea for the 2019 World Aquatics Championships a month later. The star swimmer will then fly to the U.S. again to practice for the 2019 SEA Games.
Industry insiders are skeptical if these state-funded overseas trips will bear any fruits.
But a professional officer from the General Department of Sports and Physical Training has revealed one reason as to why strong investment was still approved for Vien.
“If you do not invest in her, Vietnam can lose eight swimming gold medals [at the 2019 SEA Games],” he said.
With Vien already swam two Olympics, the target to have her continue to strike gold at a regional competition has raised several eyebrows.