She is 18, taking on 19: 'Iron Girl' is Vietnam's one-woman swim team

She is 18, taking on 19: 'Iron Girl' is Vietnam's one-woman swim team
Nguyen Thi Anh Vien of Vietnam smiles for the camera after receiving her gold medal for the women's 200m individual Medley event during the South-east Asian (SEA) Games in Naypyidaw, Myanmar on 12 December 2013.

Hungarian world swimming champion Katinka Hosszu is known as the "Iron Lady" for her stamina and ability to contest in multiple events.

At this South-east Asia (SEA) Games, Vietnam look set to unleash their very own "Iron Girl", Nguyen Thi Anh Vien.

Astoundingly, the 18-year-old versatile swimmer has been registered for all 19 women's events, making her quite literally a one-woman swim team.

How many races she will eventually take part in, only she and her coach Dang Anh Tuan know.

What's for sure, is that she comes with a solid reputation.

Certainly solid enough to give Singapore's swim sensation Joseph Schooling, who is seeking a perfect record of nine gold medals from nine events, a run for his money in the quest to be the Games' numero uno of the pool.

In Myanmar two years ago, Nguyen clinched the gold in the 200m backstroke, 200m individual medley and the 400m individual medley. She has since improved dramatically.

She holds 14 of the 17 national long-course swim records in Vietnam and was named Athlete of the Year twice, in 2013 and 2014.

The youngest athlete in Vietnam's 2012 Olympic contingent, she is set to compete in Rio next year, with a possible medal in sight.

Her quality is beyond doubt.

During an earlier interview, Singapore national swim coach David Lim, who amassed 19 golds during his SEA Games career, said that she is "bound to win her fair share of golds".

The bigger question, however, is how she will handle her potentially gruelling schedule.

With her events spread across just six days, Nguyen may only get minutes' worth of rest between races.

Depending on how she fares, the US-trained Vietnamese could be looking at up to seven events in a day.

But whatever Nguyen and her coach have planned for this Games, they are keeping it close to their chests.


Arriving in Singapore on Tuesday night, both declined to be interviewed yesterday morning at their first training session at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.

Despite the monumental task ahead of her, Nguyen looked relaxed during the 60-minute session, sharing laughs with her teammates in between drills.

In the water, she showed good form and seemed to enjoy herself.

When asked about Nguyen's ability, Lim and another swim legend, Ang Peng Siong, had positive things to say.

"She has steadily improved," said Lim, 48.

"She was at the pool training at the same time as the Singapore team and she looked pretty good."

Ang, 52, praised her technical strength and was not surprised by her registration in all of the 19 events.

He said: "I think she is capable of doing it. But I think the challenge is how she actually recovers from each race. I think that is the key thing, how she sustains her performance and energy level through six days of competition."

Lim, however, feels that the physical strain will be too much to bear.

"Taking part in 19 events is, to us, unheard of and crazy," he said.

"There is no doubt in my mind that there will be some clashes. She will withdraw from some (of the events)."

Although Nguyen could very well scupper the hosts' aim of bettering their best-ever gold medal haul - 17 at the 2011 SEA Games in Palembang - both Lim and Ang were confident that this will not happen.

"I think our strength is really in the guys," Ang said. "Tao Li will maintain her dominance in the (butter)fly event and I think the girl freestylers like Ting Wen and Amanda will be able to maintain their competitiveness."

Lim added: "It's a long week, a six-day week, so anything can happen during the period. The important thing is that everybody in our team stays focused and do what he or she needs to do, so we can't be distracted by big names."


This article was first published on June 04, 2015.
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