Monday , July 22 2024

Phong aiming high for Paris Games

Lê Quốc Phong made national headlines as he officially qualified for the Paris Games, becoming the country’s most surprising Olympic qualifier.

Archery

Lê Quốc Phong practises at the Hà Nội National Sports Training Centre 1 on July 2. Phong is one of 15 Vietnamese athletes to compete at the Paris Olympics next month. VNS Photo Văn Duy

Thanh Hà

“History is made in Yecheon”, “Lê Quốc Phong is top shot from Yecheon”, and “Lê Quốc Phong reaches the final four for the first time in Việt Nam’s history” are just a few of the recent claims of World Archery.

The Vietnamese archer successfully secured his place in the semi-finals against world stars Lee Wooseok and Kim Woojin of the hosts and Turkish Abdullah Yildirmis at the Hyundai Archery World Cup in South Korea in May.

About a month later, Phong repeated his achievement at the Antalya 2024 Hyundai Archery World Cup in Turkey. This time, he made national headlines as he officially qualified for the Paris Games, becoming the country’s most surprising Olympic qualifier.

Sport in blood

Born in 2000 in the southern province of Vĩnh Long, Phong was always interested in sports, especially badminton.

When a scout came to his school hunting for talent, Phong expected to turn his love of badminton into a dream come true, but time’s arrow took a different direction for the youngster.

“I had no badminton class at the time but because of my love for sports I decided to choose archery despite only having known about it through films and television,” said Phong.

Lê Quốc Phong and his teammate Đỗ Thị Ánh Nguyệt are two Vietnamese archers at the Paris event. VNS Photo Văn Duy

“Learning something new is always difficult, and I had almost no idea about the bow and the arrows, so it was hard to imagine how to shoot right and well. Archery requires many skills combined, such as endurance, flexibility, mental focus and patience. There were times when I didn’t do well and was discouraged. But practice makes perfect. Gradually, I got better and better.”

After a decade of archery, he was called to the national team in early 2023 after being one of the best archers at the national championships. He performed outstandingly at the national tournament for top archers in early 2024, making him one of eight players selected to compete in the Yecheon Hyundai Archery World Cup in May in South Korea.

It was not his first international competition but the first time at the world’s highest-level event.

Despite it only being his debut, Phong stably advanced to further rounds and historically made the top four to the surprise of not only his coaching board but also foreign opponents.

Lê Quốc Phong (left) and his idol Lee Woo-seck of South Korea compete against each other at the Hyundai Archery World Cup in May in South Korea. Photo of World Archery

He could not make the podium but his position was the best-ever of Việt Nam internationally.

“I have competed in six international tournaments, but the one in Singapore and the recent World Cups were the most impressive, as one was my first time abroad and one saw a fourth-place finish, which made me pleased,” Phong said.

“Going out, I could see international athletes are much bigger and taller than the Vietnamese. We are tiny compared to them. But my coach says size is not critical in archery. The deciding element is our good spirit.

“I also think that staying calm is very crucial. When you can’t shoot well, you easily get angry, leading to a breakdown in your spirit that drags down your performance. Being calm helps athletes feel peaceful in mind, so they can reach their peak again.”

Last month, in his second World Cup, his fourth position made him the Việt Nam’s 12th representative in the Paris Olympics.

Lê Quốc Phong (2nd, left) and four athletes who qualified for the Paris Olympics after their outstanding performance at the Antalya World Cup in June in Turkey. Photo of World Archery

His qualification was a shock for the national archery community as unlike many of his senior and experienced teammates, Phong had never won an international medal and taken part in the SEA Games, the national key event in the region.

“Phong’s Olympic spot brings great joy to Việt Nam’s archery, which develops years after some countries in the region and faces great competition in Asia and the world,” said Phan Trọng Quân, an official at the Archery Department of Sports Authority of Việt Nam.

“His level has improved gradually, while still facing many difficulties. Therefore, Phong’s achievement is very commendable,” he said.

Meanwhile, South Korean coach Park Chea-soon said he appreciated Phong’s ability and expects a high result in Paris. Park, who won four gold medals at the last Olympics, said at the Antalya World Cup, Phong was up against more than 100 rivals and still placed fourth.

In the upcoming Olympics, there will be 64 competitors. If Phong could maintain his physical fitness and a comfortable mind, he would totally vie for medals, Park said.

Lê Quốc Phong (right) and his coach Park Chea-soon at the Yecheon World Cup in May. Photo of World Archery

“I can’t wait to compete at the Olympics 2024,” Phong said. “I will try my best to make my dream of having a chance to sing the national anthem at the world’s biggest sporting event. I have imagined it many times.”

A wonderful venue in front of Les Invalides in Paris will welcome Phong and other best archers in the world. The competition will take place from July 25 to August 4. VNS

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