As Vietnam’s top badminton player heads for Rio 2016 for his third and possibly last Olympics, the local governing body of the sport admitted that finding his successor has been difficult.
Nguyen Tien Minh and his girlfriend Vu Thi Trang will represent Vietnam in badminton at the Games in Brazil this summer.
Minh, who also competed at London 2012 and Beijing 2008, will make history as the first Vietnamese athlete to attend three straight Olympics.
The ticket to Rio de Janeiro cements Minh’s spot as Vietnam’s best badminton player, but fuels concern as to who will be able to fill the shoes of the 33-year-old veteran.
The Vietnam Badminton Federation (VBF) was challenged with that question again at a press meeting about the upcoming Olympic trip of the duo in Hanoi on Monday, with general secretary Le Thanh Sang admitting that when a 'second Tien Minh' will emerge is a hard-to-answer question.
Sang said it is good news for Vietnamese badminton to win two Olympic berths this year, but suggested that the media “not ask when Vietnam will have another Tien Minh.”
“This is extremely difficult,” he said.
“There are other athletes who have good shape and fitness and good training conditions but lack the fighting spirit.”
Sang elaborated that those players “feel extremely discouraged whenever they lose a game, and what they would do next is to lock themselves in their rooms and sleep all day long.”
“Professional athletes like Tien Minh are few and far between in Vietnam, not only in badminton but also in other sports,” he concluded.
Minh, the world’s No. 35 player, said he will go to Brazil to give more than 100 percent effort. The veteran player is targeting a spot in the quarterfinals.
He also spoke about his girlfriend, calling her “a very special teammate.”
“For years she has been always with me on training and competition trips,” he said.
“It is a huge advantage for me to have her as a companion as we know each other very well and share everything together and take care of each other during these trips.”
At Beijing 2008, Minh was joined by his female teammate Le Ngoc Nguyen Nhung, but this time in Brazil, the player will “surely display a spirited performance with Trang by [his] side,” he said.
Vu Thi Trang ranks 25th out of 38 female badminton players to compete at Rio 2016. Born in 1992 to a poor family, Trang took up badminton as a young girl, with her first-ever pair of rackets borrowed from her older sister.
“I could not help but feeling anxious before my first-ever Olympic journey,” she said. “My happiness is to be able to accompany Minh [in Brazil].”
The couple are currently competing in the Hanoi Ciputra tournament in the Vietnamese capital from Tuesday to Sunday. They will compete at several events in Canada and the U.S. before completing a final training campaign in Japan from July 25 to August 5.
The 2016 Summer Olympic Games will be held in Rio de Janeiro from August 5 to 21. Vietnam has not won a medal since the silver grabbed by weightlifter Hoang Anh Tuan at Beijing 2008.
The VBF has given Minh and Trang VND10 million (US$446) each as encouragement gifts.