Vietnam or more accurately the Socialist Republic of Vietnam takes a big step forward onto the international sports stage with its hosting of the 22nd South East Asian (SEA) Games, 5–14 December 2003, in which 32 different sports will be contested.
For Vietnam's more than 80 million population, this big gathering of athletes marks a coming of age, a turning point reflecting the recognition of the country's efforts to integrate into the region - and, by extension, the world.
Guided by the theme "Solidarity - Cooperation - Development", Vietnam will host this biennial event (first staged in 1959) in two cities: Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
A regional sporting power
Homeground advantage may give it an edge, which suggests that the traditional sporting giants in this region - namely Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand - must take the hosts seriously.
Vietnam has already been growing from strength to strength as a sporting power. For example, at the 15th SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, it competed across all the sports with 46 athletes, winning just 3 gold, 11 silver and 5 bronze medals. However, by the last edition the 21st SEA Games held in Malaysia, its 413 athletes clinched 33 gold, 35 silver and 65 bronze medals to help their country finish fourth overall in the medal table for this multi-sport event.
Track and Field progress
Among the sports in which Vietnam has shown much progress is Track & Field Athletics, whose competition which will be held in Hanoi from 7 - 12 December (Tuesday 9 is a rest day).
High jumper Bui Thi Nhung (PB of 1.88m), for instance, created an upset when she won the gold medal at the Asian Championships held in Manila in September. Team mate Phuong Le Ngoc, who finished seventh in the women's 200m (24.47) at the same championships, is also a contender for a medal in Hanoi. Other athletes from Vietnam to watch include the Decathletes Ha Bui Van and Anh Pham Vet.
Thailand to dominate?
But in South East Asia, the Thais have traditionally been dominant in Track and Field, and this pattern seems likely to persist. According to coach Ekkawit Sawangphol, Thailand will bring to the competition in Hanoi a good mix of youth and experience. "Our strategy has always been to develop our emerging athletes even as the top ones are taking centre stage," he explains.
The male athletes expected to deliver success include Sittichai Suwonprateep (100m, 200m), Apisit Kuitaya M (400m Hurdles), Sompong Saombankuay (Pole Vault) and Nattapon Namkubha (Long Jump and Triple Jump). The 4 x 100m relay team which clinched the gold medal at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan at the expense of Japan should also shine.
In terms of being close to Asian standards, Trecia Roberts in the 100m Hurdles (12.94 season’s best, and bronze in Manila) and Wasana Winatho in the 400m Hurdles (56.40) are the female athletes to watch. The relay teams (4 x 100m, 4 X 400m) should also be in contention for top honours.
Is another Yin Yin Khine set to breakthrough?
Malaysia, Indonesia and the Phlippines have their share of good athletes but the two biggest names to emerge from this year's SEA Games could well come from two seemingly unlikely places - Myanmar and Singapore.
Myanmar's Yin Yin Khine served notice of her immense potential when she won gold medals in both the 400m and 800m at this summer’s Asian Championships. In particular, her time of 2:01.96 in the 800m makes her one of the few athletes from South East Asia who has the potential to reach world standards, if properly guided.
Singapore has not been known for its track & field success for some years but this may well change thanks to the former Chinese Du Xianhiu. The 22-year-old has a personal best of 18.67m (2002) in the Shot Put, and won all four Asian Grand Prix series meets this summer and has a season’s best of 18.38. This sort of performance repeated in Hanoi would most likely win gold.
So while the SEA Games may not be the World Championships or Asian Championships/Games in terms of quality of performances, there are still some special talents to be found, and some exciting competition to be anticipated next week.
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