Vietnamese badminton star defies test of time at Tokyo Olympics

By Xuan Binh, Duc Dong   July 19, 2021 | 05:45 pm GMT+7
Vietnamese badminton star defies test of time at Tokyo Olympics
Nguyen Tien Minh is the oldest badminton player at Tokyo Olympics. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.
At 38, Nguyen Tien Minh is still Vietnam's biggest hope at the Olympics this year, having yet to find a worthy successor.

Minh is the oldest badminton player at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, two years older than Sri Lankan veteran Niluka Karunarate. While badminton legends like Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei or China’s Lin Dan already retired at 37, Minh is still here, on the battlefield. He is still in the world’s top 100 and probably will continue participate in Asian Games China next year.

"I'm really honored to represent Vietnam in my fourth Olympic event. With the experiences from previous Olympics, I will aim for the top. Recently, due to the pandemic, training condition was difficult, but I’m trying to improve. I’m in good form and hope I’ll have the most successful Olympics of my career and leave something for the fans to remember," Minh told VnExpress.

Aside from becoming the first Vietnamese athlete to appear in four consecutive Olympic events, Minh is also level with legends Lee and Lin in their number of Olympic appearances. However, he has never made it past the first round.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Minh lost to top Taiwanese player Hsieh Yu-hsing. Four years after in London, he won against Belgium’s Yuhan Tan, though in the decisive game with India’s Parupalli Kashyap, he lost. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Minh lost to Lin Dan, who was at his prime.

At this year’s Olympics, Minh is in group L with Azerbaijani-Indonesian player Ade Resky Dwicahyo, and world number three, Denmark’s Anders Antonsen. The last time Minh met a top 10 player was in 2019 when he lost against world number one Kento Momota from Japan.

Minh won bronze at the Asian championships in the same year, the second-highest achievement of his career after the world championship bronze in 2013. Minh’s career is associated with three more bronze medals won at SEA Games 2007, 2013 and 2017.

To get a medal at the Olympics, he must top his group to advance to the next round, meaning he has to beat Dwicahyo and Antonsen. Minh faced Antonsen in 2018 and lost. Three years later, Antonsen has improved even more, jumping from 16th place to number three in the world.

Minh played two international tournaments in 2020 including the Australian Open and Thailand Masters but got eliminated in the first match.

In the world's top 100, there are no players of Minh's age, nor are there other Vietnamese players. Pham Cao Cuong, Le Duc Phat and Nguyen Hai Dang are all far from the top 100, although they are no longer young. Without worthy successors, Minh has to continue to represent Vietnam at international tournaments.

"At my age, the opponent is not the main concern. The important thing is how to maintain good form, play to the best of my ability and make use of my experience. Only then can you hope to advance."

Minh will start his Tokyo Olympics run with a match against Antonsen on July 25.

 
 
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