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Dublin: 11°C Friday 16 April 2021

'I didn't want to go to college or university, I wanted to live my dream'

18-year-old badminton star Nhat Nguyen has shown huge potential at underage level, and now that he’s turned pro, is doing everything to qualify for Tokyo 2020.

IT CAN BE a lonely crusade to desolate corners of the world, a costly one at that too, but for Nhat Nguyen the drive to fulfil his potential and chase his dream is unrelenting. 

For as long as he can remember, the 18-year-old has channeled all his energy towards one single-minded goal of becoming the badminton player his talent has always promised. Train, eat, sleep, train, repeat. 

Nhat Nguyen Nhat Nguyen pictured in Dublin this week. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Last summer, he spent three months living and sleeping in a rickety training hall in Jakarta, Indonesia, in order to train with some of the best players in the world, all the while under the guidance of his former coach. 

For the most part, he lived alone in the badminton club, on the other side of the world, sleeping in a small room down from where he would train two or three times a day, and using the most basic cooking facilities imaginable.

“It’s a completely different world out there,” he says. “I was in the suburbs and there were shanty towns and homeless people everywhere.”

Born in Vietnam, Nguyen moved to Ireland with his family when he was four and by the time he was seven, had developed his father’s love for badminton, showing prodigious pedigree from a young age.

From there, Nguyen’s passion for the sport and desire for success grew, and as the years rolled by so too did the accolades and achievements. National titles, followed by European titles. He has long been earmarked as a star of the future.

He has been gaining experience and exposure with a professional club in Germany — TV Refrath — and last week, Nguyen continued his career development by winning bronze at the European Junior Championships in Tallinn. Not that he was satisfied with third place. 

“I was expecting more, but I’ll take a medal,” he states. “I was first seed. I was favourite to win, but I’ll take a medal, I didn’t play my best, but I’ll take a medal. I’m happy enough.”

Finishing on the podium does, however, augur well for next month’s Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, where Nguyen will again be heavily-fancied to medal and display his credentials on the world stage.

“I’m building on that confidence in training. I feel good at the moment. The goal is to medal, and I feel I have a good chance because I’ve competed against most of the competitors. I feel I have a good chance to medal, that’s the plan.”

The teenager’s plan was always to follow his professional ambitions once he had completed the Leaving Certificate out of St David’s CBS in Artane last June, and with the help of the Olympic Federation of Ireland and Sport Ireland, Nguyen has been able to train full-time.

“If you’re top 20 in the world it’s possible to make a good living from badminton,” he adds. 

Nguyen continues to play in Germany but after the Youth Olympics, his focus will turn to the World Junior Championships in Toronto in November, before Tokyo 2020 appears on the horizon.

Nhat Nguyen He was won national and European titles. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Even at 18, Nguyen has designs on reaching his first Olympic Games in two years and in order to do so will need to get into the top 50 in the world, meaning he has considerable ground to make up from his current position of 94th with prize money of $1,798.

“I haven’t played that many senior tournaments but I’ve a lot to catch up on,” the Dubliner admits. 

“I didn’t want to go to college, after I finished my Leaving Cert, I just wanted to focus solely on badminton. I am living the dream at the moment, I’m training two-three times a day. Just eat and sleep badminton. I know it’s quite boring, but it’s always something I wanted to do.

“When I finished school, I had to think more about the money situation. I’m playing abroad in a club to earn a living really and I have help from Olympic funding and Sport Ireland. That’s a great help for me and my family, and just less stress for my parents really.”

Following in the footsteps of Chloe and Sam Magee, and the recently-retired Scott Evans, Nguyen understands the sacrifices demanded to compete, and stay afloat, at the top level, but is fully confident in his ability. 

Having achieved so much so young, the future is extremely bright for Nguyen and the progress he has made certainly bodes well as he bids to break the mould and truly put Ireland on the map at senior level. He doesn’t want to simply survive.

But as confident and ambitious as he is, and needs to be, Nguyen understands the perils and pitfalls of a cut-throat sport in which only the best will succeed. The aim is not to peak too soon, and allow that exciting potential to expire, but to continue to develop and progress as a player at a steady pace.

“I’m trying not to think about it too much because I tend to overthink things,” he says of getting to the Olympics.

“I’m just trying to enjoy the moment really, just stay in the moment and not think about 2020. Next up is the Youth Olympics and I’m focusing on that.”

The rest will follow. 


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Ryan Bailey

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