Vietnam has produced many great runners over the years, and one of the top stars to keep an eye on is the SEA Games and ASEAN University Games (AUG) 800m and 1500m men’s champion Duong Van Thai.
Duong’s rise to the top has been nothing short of meteoric. The 24 year old made a blistering arrival at the 2011 SEA Games, where he set the Vietnamese national record in the men’s 800m final in Palembang with a time of 1:49.42.
It was a performance that was more than good enough for Van Thai to beat the Philippines’ Mervin Guarte and Indonesia’s Abdul Haris to the gold medal.
Van Thai would also finish a respectable fourth in the 1500m event, with Indonesia’s Ridwan Ridwan claiming the gold medal for his country.
Before his arrival at the SEA Games level, Van Thai had already proven his mantle at the 2010 ASEAN School Games with a gold medal in the 800m final.
It did not come as a surprise that, at the 2012 ASEAN University Games in Vientiane, Van Thai would triumph in the competition’s 800m and 1500m finals to add two gold medals to his country’s impressive haul in Laos.
Also, his win at the Vientiane AUG was highly significant as the dethroned the current AUG champion in the 800m and 1500m events, Malaysia’s Mohd Riduan Jironi.
The Philippines’ Elbren Neri and Indonesia’s Ridwan could only garner a bronze medal in the 800m and 1500m events respectively.
The intense rivalry between Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam in these two athletic events would also continue at the 27th SEA Games in Myanmar, where Van Thai would once again face rivals Jironi, Guarte and Ridwan.
Jironi would pull off one of the greatest victories in the history of the SEA Games’ 800m men’s event by overtaking Guarte and Van Thai in the dying seconds of the final and relegating them to a silver and bronze medal finish respectively.
Van Thai, however, was fortunate enough to finish the 1500m men’s final with the exact same time of 3:58:02 with Jironi. This allowed Van Thai to share the gold with Jironi, while their Indonesian rival Ridwan had to settle for the bronze.
The disappointment of falling behind to his rivals in the 800m event meant that Van Thai would have to up his game in order to come up back on top at the next AUG and SEA Games.
The Vietnamese runner wasted no time in reminding his rivals of his pedigree with a masterful performance at the 17th ASEAN University Games in December 2014, just a few months before the 2015 (28th) SEA Games in Singapore.
Returning once again to the city where he set the current national record for the 800m at the 2011 SEA Games, Van Thai stormed to the both the AUG 800m and 1500m titles by beating opponents from the Philippines and host nation Indonesia.
He would later accomplish a clean sweep of both the 800m and 1500m titles at the 2015 SEA Games. In Singapore In the 800m finals, Van Thai would be pushed all the way by Guarte, ensuring a photo finish where the Vietnamese athlete would triumph by just 0.06 of a second ahead of his Filipino rival.
The next duel between both men in the 1500m final was equally memorable. Guarte would lead the field for most of the event, with Van Thai far behind in fourth place. In the final lap, however, the Vietnamese runner surged to the front of the field to leave his Filipino opponent trailing in his wake.
Arguably, these performances at the SEA Games came about due to Van Thai’s participation at the 17th AUG in Palembang, where he tested himself against some of the best university athletes in Southeast Asia.
With the AUG and SEA Games golds in the 800m and 1500m men’s events in their trophy cabinet, Vietnam has certainly established itself as a force to be reckoned with in Southeast Asia.
At the upcoming AUG in Singapore, be sure to expect another exciting performance as the Vietnamese battle it out with their regional rivals on the running tracks at Choa Chu Kang Stadium.