Vietnamese judo's golden siblings draw strength from family, each other

By Lan Chi   May 27, 2022 | 12:28 am PT
Two Vietnamese siblings who have made history by winning judo gold medals at the SEA Games say immense support from the family and each other is their driving force.

Nguyen Hoang Thanh, 23, who won gold medal in the men's 55 kg on May 21, is the younger brother of Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy, who clinched the women's 52 kg gold a day before.

"When Thuy won gold, I was so happy that I could cry. We always told each other to be determined and confident. Her victory gave me more power to compete the next day," Thanh said.

Thuy, 28, was also delighted when her brother also claimed gold. The siblings said they were able to focus their mind entirely on training and competing because of a very supportive family.

Thanh and Thuy, from the Mekong Delta's Tra Vinh Province, have other two siblings. The eldest brother didn't choose a career in sports, but works in the nutrition field and supports them a lot. Their second eldest brother is currently a lecturer in the Department of Physical Education, Faculty of Basic Science, Tra Vinh University. He practices judo at home.

According to the lecturer brother, the initial purpose behind him and Thuy to start training in judo was the salary that they would receive when competing for the province's judo team, which could help the family financially. After some time, they developed a passion for the sport. The lecturer brother switched to coaching and refereeing while Thuy stuck to competing.

Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy shed tears after winning the gold medal in the womens 52 kg event of SEA Games judo on May 20, 2022. Photo by Bui Kha Tu

Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy shed tears after winning the gold medal in the women's 52 kg event of SEA Games judo on May 20, 2022. Photo by Bui Kha Tu

Thuy quickly displayed her prowess, winning many titles at the national youth tournaments and catching the attention of talent scouts. She got a call from the National Sports Training Center in Can Tho, around two hours from Tra Vinh. Her parents were hesitant to let their only daughter live far from home, but gave in eventually.

It was tough at first, but with her parents' backing, Thuy was able to overcome the challenges of living away from home and do well.

Not afraid of falling

As Thuy gradually affirmed her place in Vietnamese judo, Thanh began getting acquainted with this sport.

"When I was young, I watched my brother and sister going to practice. I was curious and wanted to try judo, too. In 2009, when I was 10 years old, I was called to the province’s judo team for the gifted", Thanh told VnExpress.

Soon, Thanh became passionate about the martial art as well. One of the difficulties for many beginners, or white belts, are falling techniques called Ukemi Waza. This is a very important group of techniques, helping practitioners avoid injuries, and also a good skill to help protect themselves outside the training ground. In the first stage when they are getting used to the sport, many get bored with learning to fall. But Thanh had the support and guidance of his siblings. He completed and perfected his Ukemi techniques under their watch. He lost his fear of falling, which is a very favorable factor in improving judo skills.

Although Thanh was supported by his parents fully in practicing judo, they were worried when he was called up to the national youth team and asked to train at the National Sports Training Center II in HCMC. But he assured that he would succeed. His confidence and encouragement from his siblings convinced his parents. Family gatherings were switched from direct to online every night with both Thanh and Thuy away from home.

The judo lecturer brother said he always tried to learn new things about judo and sports in general so that he could share it with his siblings. After each tournament, he always rewatched his siblings' matches and analyzed their performances with them.

"Thuy and Thanh are both skilled athletes, but they always listen to me, although my own performances were not as good," he said.

Nguyen Hoang Thanh competes in SEA Games 31. Photo by Bui Kha Tu

Nguyen Hoang Thanh competes in SEA Games 31. Photo by Bui Kha Tu

The siblings have also been a source of strength for each other. Thanh was selected for the national team in 2020 and became Thuy’s teammate. Her journey and achievements became a great motivation and example for Thanh to follow.

"On the training ground, she is very strict, but at the end of the day, she is really joyful and easygoing," Thanh said. Thuy always keeps an eye on her brother's journey. When he got into the national team, she immediately set his practice schedule and insisted that he stuck by it.

Thanh said he enjoyed practicing with Thuy, especially when the two participated in tournaments. Winning together was the icing on the cake.

Glory on home field

When Thuy first won the SEA Games gold medal in 2015, her family was jubilant. Their joy knew no bounds when she accumulated enough points in international tournaments to become the only representative of Vietnamese judo at the Tokyo Olympics last year.

But maintaining the top position was not easy. Thuy lost the highly anticipated individual gold medal at the SEA Games 30 in the Philippines. But the family was there again to help Thuy overcome the failure and move towards the goal of returning to the top in the next SEA Games.

Thanh Thuy (white attire, left) and Hoang Thanh (white attire, right) pose with their family after winning SEA Games judo gold medals on May 21, 2022.

Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy (3rd, L) and Nguyen Hoang Thanh (4th, L) pose with their family after winning SEA Games judo gold medals on May 21, 2022. Photo courtesy of the family

For SEA Games 31, parents, siblings and friends were present in full force at the Hoai Duc Gymnasium in Hanoi, cheering for Thuy and Thanh. Their lecturer brother worked as a referee at the tournament. On May 20, Thuy defeated her opponents with convincing performances to win a second SEA Games gold.

The next day, at his first SEA Games ever, Thanh made the family joyous and proud when he emulated Thuy and won the gold medal for Viet Nam.

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