Train, eat, sleep, win is all Vietnam swim queen Vien knows

Nguyen Thi Anh Vien has 25 SEA Games golds after winning the 400m individual medley to finish her campaign.
Nguyen Thi Anh Vien has 25 SEA Games golds after winning the 400m individual medley to finish her campaign.

CLARK • Such is Vietnam swimmer Nguyen Thi Anh Vien's dogged focus on her career that she does not have a mobile phone or a Facebook account, despite earning billions of dong in prize money and sponsorships.

The 23-year-old, nicknamed the Little Mermaid, admitted her days consist only of "training, eating, sleeping and training again", but she is happy to forsake a regular life for her sport.

She is always accompanied by her coach Dang Anh Tuan, and her daily expenses are covered by the government as well as her overseas training stints in the United States.

Spotted by coaches from a military team, the shy swimmer from Can Tho, a city in southern Vietnam's Mekong Delta region, first burst onto the international scene at the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games in 2014, winning the 200m individual medley.

For her achievements, she was named Vietnam's Athlete of the Year in 2013 and 2014.

She has totted up 25 golds over five SEA Games, with none on her debut in 2011 and peaking at eight in 2015 and 2017. She ended her campaign in the Philippines as the most successful female swimmer with six golds and two silvers after winning the 400m IM on Sunday.

She told The Straits Times: "I'm very happy when I get the medal for Vietnam, my country."

While Vien, a captain in the Vietnam People's Army, was on an eight-gold mission in Kuala Lumpur in 2017, she hardly had time to breathe, let alone smile.

But she is enjoying her time in Clark, lapping up her victories and adulation from the local fans.

She added: "I'm happy because I get the gold medal and I can swim with my team. And the people in the Philippines are very nice and friendly and I'm happy to meet my fans here."

The Philippines' Jasmine Alkhaldi, who swam at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, has raced against her many times at the biennial regional Games.

Alkhaldi, who is of Saudi Arabian and Filipino heritage, told ST: "She's really strong and really good at a lot of events, but I feel like for these Games, in particular, I kind of held my own.

"She's really good at the individual medley and she's better at the longer distance events."

Vien, who won two bronzes at the 2014 Asian Games, competed at London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016 and is gunning for her third Olympiad in Tokyo next year.

Her debut in London saw her star-struck by American legend Michael Phelps, and she smiled when asked if her goal was to win a medal next year. She said: "My goal is to get the A cut (qualify) next year. I just want to swim with the best in the world."

She is part of a wave of athletes who have pushed Vietnam up the swimming medal tally, after taking their now-familiar second spot behind powerhouse Singapore for the first time in 2015.

They wrapped up their 2019 campaign with 10 golds, with their men Nguyen Huy Hoang (400m and 1,500m freestyle) and debutant Tran Hung Nguyen (200m and 400m IM) adding two each.

Low Lin Fhoong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2019, with the headline 'Train, eat, sleep, win is all Vietnam swim queen Vien knows'. Print Edition | Subscribe