SEA Games: Vietnamese bet swims his way out of poverty
NOI — Vietnam’s Pham Thanh Bao looked up at the electric board above the pool the moment he touched the wall at the end of the men’s 100m breaststroke, before slapping the water in delight.
He had beaten powerful rivals, including title favorite Maximillian Wei Ang, to win his first-ever SEA Games gold.
Wei of Singapore finished second and Gagarin Nathaniel Yus of Indonesia was third.
Making his victory all the sweeter was his time of 1min 1.17sec, a new Vietnam national record. The previous record had stood since the 2009 SEA Games in Laos, set by the late Nguyen Huu Viet.
Furthermore, his time also set a new Games record, beating the 1:01.46 set by James Deiparine of the Philippines at the last SEA Games. He is the first swimmer to set a new record at this year’s Games.
“I am so happy with this result. Thank you for all your support,” Bao said.
“I didn’t think I could reach such achievement. But I have made it. I don’t know what to say now. I will try harder for better.”
Swimming is a passion
Bao is the only child from a poor family in the southern province of Ben Tre in Vietnam.
They live in a tiny house in Ven Tre City, in which there is only one bed for his grandmother. The rest of the family members slept on the ground.
Both of his parents struggle for work. His mother is a part-time kitchenhand in restaurants, or cleans houses, earning VND 30,000 (US$1.3) an hour if hired. His father earns money picking coconuts but earns nothing if it rains.
Bao, born in 2001, grew up in poverty but he loved sports – athletics, football and especially swimming.
Having typical swimming characteristics such as a long arm span, good fitness and a swimmer’s body, Bao was scouted to the Can Tho Sports Training Centre when he was 12 years old.
“We did not agree to let him go because we wanted him to study and have a job. Sport to me is not a profession,” Bao’s mother said.
“But he was really determined and coaches pushed and encouraged a lot so we let him choose his future,” she said.
2016 was an important year in his athlete life. The 15-year-old Bao, after nearly four years of training, grabbed his first golds in 100m and 200m breaststroke events at the National Youth Swimming Championship. His time of 1:06.26 was the new national junior record in the 100m breaststroke.
In the same year, he won and set a new national junior record in the 200m breaststroke of 2:23.65 at the National Swimming Championship.
He also dominated in these events at the Southeast Asian Age Groups Swimming Championship, helping Vietnam to finish on top of the medal tally in late 2016.
He was called to the national team and made his SEA Games debut in 2017. In Kuala Lumpur, Bao and his teammates won a bronze in the 4x100m relay.
Swimming is his passion but Bao also knew that swimming will help his family get out of difficult life.
“I have a dream, a big one. I want to build a good house for my parents and grandmother to live in more comfort. I am so sad seeing them suffering and struggling,” Bao said in an interview after his bronze medal.
“So, I will try to swim well. Hopefully, one day I will win a gold medal at the SEA Games.”
Two years later, Bao took responsibility for Vietnam in the 100m and 200m breaststroke events. Bao grabbed two silvers and set a new national record of 2:12.84 in the latter one.
At this Games, his dream has come true.