SEA Games: Vietnam’s bet is swimming its way out of poverty

Pham Than Bao celebrates the men's 100m breaststroke victory at the 31st SEA Games in Hanoi on Saturday.  - Buy VNA / VNS photo form through ANN

Vietnam’s Pham Than Bao celebrated her men’s 100m breaststroke victory at the 31st SEA Games in Hanoi on Saturday. – Buy VNA / VNS photo form through ANN

NOI – Vietnam’s Pham Than Bao looked at the electric board above the pool the moment he touched the wall at the end of the men’s 100m breaststroke, before happily splashing water.

He defeated strong rivals, including title-loving Maximilian Wei Ang, to win gold at the SEA Games for the first time.

Wei of Singapore is second and Gagarin Nathaniel Yus of Indonesia is third.

1 minute 1.17 seconds made his win even sweeter, setting a new Vietnam national record. The previous record was set after the 2009 SEA Games in Laos, set by the late Nguyen Hu Viet.

Moreover, his time also set a new game record, losing 1: 01.46 set by James DiPerin of the Philippines in the last SEA Games. He is the first swimmer to set a new record in this year’s Games.

“I am just happy with the result. Thank you for all your support, “said Bao.

“I never thought I would achieve that. But I made it. I don’t know what to say now. I will try my best to do better. “

A passion for swimming

Fan Than Bao (center) is the first swimmer to set a record at the 31st SEA Games in Ha Nai on Saturday.  - Buy VNA / VNS photo form through ANN

Fan Than Bao (center) is the first swimmer to set a record at the 31st SEA Games in Ha Nai on Saturday. – Buy VNA / VNS photo form through ANN

Bao is the only child of a poor family in the southern province of Ben Tre, Vietnam.

They live in a small house in Van Tray City, where there is only one bed for his grandmother. The rest of the family was lying on the ground.

Her parents both struggle for work. Her mother earns VND 30,000 (US $ 1.3) per hour if she rents out a part-time kitchen, or house cleaning, in a restaurant. Her father earns money by picking coconuts but gets nothing when it rains.

Bao, born in 2001, grew up in poverty but loved sports – athletics, football and especially swimming.

Because of his long arm span, good fitness, and general swimming features like the body of a swimmer, Bao went to Can Tho Sports Training Center when he was 12 years old.

“We did not agree to let him go because we wanted him to study and work. Sport is not a profession for me, “said Bao’s mother.

“But he was really determined and the coaches put a lot of pressure and encouragement so we let him choose his future,” he said.

2016 was an important year in his athletic life. Bao, 15, after nearly four years of training, won his first gold in the 100m and 200m breaststroke events at the National Youth Swimming Championships. His time of 1: 06.26 was the new national junior record in the 100m breaststroke.

That same year, he won and set a new national junior record in the 200m breaststroke of 2: 23.65 at the National Swimming Championships.

He also dominated these events at the Southeast Asian Age Group Swimming Championships, helping Vietnam to the top of the medal table in late 2016.

He was called up to the national team and made his SEA Games debut in 2017. In Kuala Lumpur, Bao and his teammates won bronze in the 4x100m relay.

Dream swimming

Swimming is his passion but Bao knew that swimming would help his family to get out of difficult life.

“I have a dream, a big one. I want to build a better home for my parents and grandparents to live in more comfort. I am very sorry to see them suffer and struggle, “Bao said in an interview after receiving his bronze medal.

“So, I’ll try to swim better. Hopefully, one day I will win a gold medal at the SEA Games. ”

Two years later, Bao took charge of Vietnam in the 100m and 200m breaststroke events. Bao won two silver and set a new national record of 2: 12.84 in the second.

In these games, his dream has come true.

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