When a 13-year-old Nguyen Van Duong entered the ring for the first time, he weighed only 33 kg and was immediately nicknamed “Little Chicken” by the trainer.
More than a decade later, he travels to Tokyo as the first Vietnamese boxer to compete in an Olympics since Seoul 1988.
“I’m coming to the Olympics with the ultimate goal – to win a medal,” the 24-year-old featherweight (57kg) fighter told AFP from his training camp in Ho Chi Minh City.
Duong’s extraordinary journey from Vietnam’s Bac Giang – an industrial northern province home to factories supplying Samsung and Foxconn – to Tokyo later this month has astonished even the athlete himself.
A ruthless performance in 2020 against Thailand’s experienced Chatchai Decha Butdee – who saw him send his opponent in just 47 seconds to qualify for the Olympics – totally surprised him.
“I could not believe I won the match so quickly,” he said.
He had lost to the same fighter in a unanimous decision in the final in Southeast Asia a few months earlier.
Small but deadly force
As a pint-sized 13-year-old who was towered over by other kids his age, Duong initially found it hard to be taken seriously as a boxer.
When he showed up one day to train with the national police team, the coach turned to the teenager’s cousin and said, “You brought this little chicken here – how long does it take to make him a boxer?”
Moniker is stuck. But Duong soon exceeded all expectations – to win the National Youth Boxing Championship in 2010, join the national youth team and become a small but deadly force in the ring.
This year, Duong has been almost completely locked in for several months in a row at his training camp with no athletes allowed due to the recent coronavirus wave in Ho Chi Minh City.
Rises at 5.30 every day he works hard on his fitness – runs and lifts dumbbells, aware of the enormous challenge that lies ahead of him.
“The qualifiers and the Olympics are very different, so I have to improve in terms of technique, tactics, speed … everything.”
But the pandemic has made preparations particularly tough, he admits, and he has previously talked about the huge psychological and physical toll over the past year.
When local tournaments were canceled, important training opportunities for combat were lost.
“When I got the ticket to the Olympics, I was in my best shape, physically and mentally … I wanted to keep fighting, but the games were postponed and I felt a little down.”
Still, he remains determined as he counts the days down to Tokyo.
“I will try hard to deliver my best performance,” he said. “To bring victory to my homeland, my country and all the boxing fans.”
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