HÀ NỘI — Nguyễn Thị Oanh crossed the finish line and lay down on the ground, exhausted.
Minutes later, she took the national flag from her coach to celebrate her 3,000m steeplechase victory and burst into tears. Oanh didn’t realise she had just become Việt Nam’s top track-and-field athlete at the 30th Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines.
Oanh secured a hat-trick of individual titles in the women’s 1,500m, 5,000m and 3,000m steeplechase, with a Games’ record in the last event.
“I’s so exciting to enjoy the feeling of winning. There is nothing that makes me happier than seeing the national flag flying at the victory ceremony,” said Oanh.
Việt Nam came to the Games to defend their top position in athletics from the previous tournament two years ago in Malaysia. National champion Oanh, who won golds in the 1,500m and 5,000m in Kuala Lumpur, was the top medal hopes. She was asked to defend her crowns and win the 3,000m steeplechase.
The tiny girl from Bắc Giang Province took her first gold on December 8 in the 1,500m. The 1.48m-tall runner finished first with a time of 4min 17.31sec, a seasonal best.
It was not Oanh’s favourite category and she first participated in it when her strong point 3,000m steeplechase was not held at the Malaysian 2017 Games. From an unknown runner in this class, she shocked her coaches, teammates and supporters by winning gold.
This year, the 24-year-old, who was not in the best physical condition because of insomnia, ran 3 seconds faster than previously.
“I always set a target for myself in every competition and I have plans for all them. My major is the 3,000m steeplechase. For various reasons, I have to run in other categories and I have to adjust for each one so that I can win,” said Oanh.
“I still have two races ahead and I will do better,” said Oanh, who had been rejected from the provincial athletics team due to her size.
Two days later, Oanh opened a golden day for Việt Nam with a title in the 5,000m in the morning.
Oanh and her teammate led from the beginning abdquickly left all other rivals far behind. It wasn’t until the last lap that Oanh sprinted ahead and finished first with a time of 16min 45.98sec, another seasonal best.
In the afternoon’s 3,000m steeplechase, it was no surprise that she romped home to gold in a time of 10min 0.02sec.
“Prior to the Games, I really wanted to have a record, especially in the 3,000m steeplechase. But after the first two events, it seemed impossible. I was really exhausted. I felt dizzy and had a headache and thought that I could not take part in the last one.
“After half a day, I was better and decided to run. I screamed loudly at the start to encourage myself and ran with more than 100 per cent of my ability.
“It was tired but I told myself that I could not give up. Crossing the finish line was a must, then I kept running,” said Oanh.
Oanh’s record was the first and the only for Việt Nam’s athletics team at this Games. Her result also made her the most successful member of the athletics team at this Games.
“Oanh is a small athlete but has big determination. Witnessing her tiredness after the 5,000m, I also felt worried for the last event. However, she had strong physique and good endurance. She did a really good job,” said Dương Đức Thủy, head of Athletics Department of the National Sports Administration.
Oanh, who won a 3,000m bronze medal at the 2018 Asian Games, has now set her sight on loftier goals.
“A berth in the Olympics is my dream and I will try harder to earn a berth in Tokyo this summer,” she said. — VNS
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