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Hoang Anh Tuan carries weight of past failure



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Hoang Anh Tuan at the 2006 World Championships

By Nga Pham
BBC Vietnamese Service, Hanoi

Hoang Anh Tuan of Vietnam will never forget the 2009 Southeast Asian Games in Laos.

On 10 December, he collapsed on the floor of the Pornsawan Sport Hall in Vientiane, having failed three times to jerk his target of 152kg, much lower than he achieved at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The "golden boy" of Vietnamese sport was now going home empty-handed.

Images of Tuan crying while apologising to the nation, broadcast live on television, shocked many in Vietnam as never before had they seen such an open display of emotion by a public figure.

HOANG ANG TUAN - THE FACTS
Region: Que Vo, Bac Ninh, Vietnam
Born: 1985
Discipline: Weightlifting
Career highlights: Silver medal at Beijing Olympics 2008

"Even now I still don't understand how I could fail so badly," says Tuan, his voice shaking a little at the reminiscence.

"Maybe my tactics were wrong when I aimed too high to begin with, or perhaps I lost too much energy after having to shed a couple kilos to make my weight… I don't know.

"But I remember, at that moment I wished I could just disappear. I vowed not to ever compete again."

"Luckily, he changed his mind," adds Do Dinh Khang, head of the Weightlifting Department of Vietnam Sports Administration, who has been Tuan's manager since he began competing internationally in 2005.

"Hoang Anh Tuan still remains our best hope for international medals. He is a natural born weightlifter. That kind of talent is very difficult to find."

Born in 1985 in a village in Bac Ninh province, 20km from the capital Hanoi, Tuan is the eldest son in the family.

Hoang Anh Tuan
Hoang Anh Tuan powered his way to a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics

From an early age he had to help his mother run her butcher's shop as Tuan's father was sent to jail for drug dealing. Between market runs he went to school and played sport.

"He was a confident, active and lively boy, who was very keen on singing," smiles Vu Thi Thao, Tuan's teacher at his primary school in Pho Moi town.

"He was very popular in the class. But he was sometimes moody too, which I blamed on his background."

Tuan started weightlifting in 1998, when he was 13 and weighed only 35kg.

During the next 10 years, Tuan reaped some of the most prestigious awards in the field, including the Asia Games silver medal, Asian Championships gold medal and above all, the silver medal at the Beijing Games.

The public pressure is unbearable at times, that's why I thought about quitting
Hoang Anh Tuan

To date this is one of only two Olympic medals that Vietnamese sportsmen have achieved. He was named Vietnam's Sportsman of the Year in 2008.

"Victories came to him too early and too fast and for a young person, it can be a huge challenge to keep it cool and level-headed," says Do Dinh Khang.

A few slips of the tongue and Tuan began to be described in the newspapers as some kind of a spoiled star who appeared to be ungrateful to his coaches and colleagues.

When he suffered defeat at some major competitions, the Vietnamese media loved to criticise his "behavioural problems" which they believed led to his poor sporting performance.

"I know I was behaving wrongly and saying many things I shouldn't have," comments Tuan about his media coverage. "But I think the newspapers have also been sometimes unfair.

"The public pressure is unbearable at times, that's why I thought about quitting."

WORLD CLASS
Hoang Anh Tuan
BBC World Class is a project uniting schools around the world through World Olympic Dreams

But Tuan is glad to get back to training and says he has his coaches, his family and supporters to thank for "giving me the inspiration to come back".

Now in China preparing for an upcoming World Championship in Turkey, Tuan seems to be brimming with energy and eager to give it another try.

"I'm still young and I want to prove that I can achieve more in my career," he explains.

Do Dinh Khang, meanwhile, is more cautious, saying: "We'll wait and see how Tuan performs this September in Turkey first."

He adds, in his opinion, Tuan is still in good form and "should be able to win a medal".

"But I don't want to say it too early," he confesses.


We will be following the progress of a selection of athletes and we would like to hear from you.

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see also
Vietnamese weightlifter banned
25 Jan 11 |  World Olympic Dreams


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