Vietnamese Paralympic hopefuls make final preparations for Games at Limerick camp


Despite obstacles, the Vietnamese athletes have achieved world rankings in many sports, writes KATHRYN HAYES

THE 11 members of the Vietnamese Paralympics team are currently training in Ireland ahead of the greatest sporting event of their lives next month, the London 2012 Games.

Most of the team have overcome major life obstacles to compete in London. For 27-year- old Nguyen Binh An there have been two main challenges: his disability and an impoverished background. He lost the use of his legs after contracting polio when he was seven years old.

According to the team’s interpreter, Ho Thanh My, who works at the ministry of culture sport and tourism in Hanoi, polio has been one of the leading causes of disability in Vietnam. All 11 of the team, nine of whom are wheelchair users, contracted the disease at a young age.

Yet despite their disabilities they have achieved world rankings in a number of sporting disciplines, and power lifter An from Tra Vinh province is ranked eighth in the world, even though he took up the sport only two years ago.

An has never been to school and lives on a farm with his parents and four sisters, one of whom taught him to read and write. “I love power lifting and first started training in my local gym, where some of my friends would help me with the equipment I couldn’t manage,” he said through an interpreter.

Two years ago when he took part in a national competition, Paralympics coach Nguyen Hong Phuc spotted An’s talent and began training him for the Southeast Asia Games. From there he went on to compete in Kuala Lumpur last February, after which he qualified for the London Paralympic Games. “We hope one day he will be the Asian champion and we would be hopeful that he might win a bronze medal in London,” his coach said.

It’s the first time the Vietnamese Paralympic athletes have had the opportunity to take part in a training programme in Europe in advance of any major tournament.

The team is based at the University of Limerick sports arena, where they are availing of state-of-the-art training facilities including the Olympic-sized swimming pool. They will spend their last week of training at Bradford College in the UK.

Their accommodation and training expenses here are funded by Irish Aid and the Irish Sports Council.

Power lifter Chau Hoang Tuyet Loan believes London will be an opportunity for her to finally win a medal. The restaurant manager contracted polio when she was four months old and has been using a wheelchair since. She started power lifting in 2002 and came fourth at the Paralympic Games in Beijing.

One of the team’s strongest contenders for a medal is 27-year- old swimmer Vo Thanh Tung, who is currently third in the world in the 50m butterfly category.

Javelin thrower Cao Ngoc Hung is also hoping to do well in London. He got polio when he was two years old and has no movement in his left leg.