Viet shooter bags first gold for South-east Asia

Vietnamese shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh (left) and Thai weightlifter Sopita Tanasan won South-east Asia's first two gold medals.
Vietnamese shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh and Thai weightlifter Sopita Tanasan (above) won South-east Asia's first two gold medals.PHOTOS: REUTERS
Vietnamese shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh (left) and Thai weightlifter Sopita Tanasan won South-east Asia's first two gold medals.
Vietnamese shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh (above) and Thai weightlifter Sopita Tanasan won South-east Asia's first two gold medals.PHOTOS: REUTERS

After South-east Asia drew a blank at the 2012 London Games, it was fitting that Vietnamese shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh was the man to get the region off the blocks at the Rio Olympics.

The 41-year-old military officer, who missed out on a podium finish four years ago by 0.1 point, won the 10m air pistol gold last Saturday.

He finished with a winning score of 202.5 in the final, just 0.3 point ahead of local hope Felipe Wu.

It was also a historic moment for Vietnam, which had won only two Olympic silvers in its history.

Hours later, one gold for South- east Asia became two as Thai weightlifter Sopita Tanasan, 21, triumphed in the first event of the weightlifting competition.

She dominated the women's 48kg, lifting 92kg in the snatch and 108kg in the clean and jerk for a total of 200kg to end top of the podium.

South-east Asia won 10 medals (four silvers, six bronzes) in 2012 but failed to deliver a single gold - a first since the 1988 Seoul Games.

Yet there was collective confidence across the 620 million inhabitants in the region that this barren run would end in Brazil.

It was why The Straits Times embarked on a project to profile some of the region's brightest hopes, including Hoang.

He told a press conference: "I'm very lucky. It's the first gold medal in Vietnam's history."

With two weeks left, the gold rush could continue for South-east Asia.

The 2004 Athens edition was the most successful for the region, with Thailand and Indonesia bringing home four golds, a figure that could be surpassed in Brazil.

Ratchanok Intanon, a former world No. 1 and badminton world champion in 2013, and Ariya Jutanugarn, the newly crowned British Open golf winner, are well placed to add to the Thais' tally.

Malaysia's badminton superstar Lee Chong Wei, a two-time Olympic silver medallist, is the top seed in the men's singles, while diving compatriot Pandelela Rinong is looking for an upgrade on her 10m platform bronze from London.

The Philippines will be led by weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz while Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling is also a legitimate medal contender in the men's 100m butterfly.

After a stellar showing on the opening day in Rio, the gloom from four years ago has been lifted. With record financial investment in sport from Singapore to Ho Chi Minh City, the future for the region promises to be as golden as the sun that rises over Copacabana beach.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2016, with the headline 'Viet shooter bags first gold for South-east Asia'. Print Edition | Subscribe