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'I’ve a new respect for how my parents work': Nguyen grounded as he targets Olympic shock

The Dubliner is on course to qualify for Tokyo and is intent on making his mark at the rescheduled Olympics

TO VARYING DEGREES and senses, 2020 has been a grounding experience for us all.

And, for Nhat Nguyen, travel restrictions certainly weren’t the only thing ensuring his feet were securely planted in terra firma.

Nguyen has spent recent years getting himself used to the globe-trotting existence required of international sportspeople. Airports, planes, fleeting accommodation and eating spots repeated over and over for every new tournament.

The pandemic meant grounded flights, a slowed pace of life and removal of so many distractions. But while most of us have either been given a feast or famine of family time with swathes of the population unable to work as normal, the Hanoi-born Dubliner’s time back in the nest required him to roll up the sleeves and help give other people a break from cooking or one of those exciting trips to the supermarket.

nhat-nguyen FBD is supporting Team Ireland’s Olympic hopefuls to enable them to focus on personal bests and breakthrough performances at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Without a racquet, that whip-cracking power in his wrist was put to use to wield a knife. A rising star in international badminton and a man intent on making his mark at (now) next year’s Tokyo Olympics, Nguyen backed himself to have the stamina to breeze through an evening shift at his family’s take away, Clarehall Chinese.

“Definitely a learning experience there for me. In the Chinese it’s long hours, you’re working 4-12. So it’s very demanding. I didn’t think it’d be as hard,” Nguyen said as an FBD ambassador in a Zoom call this morning.

I’d do my morning session in the gym, then go to work for my parents from 5-11 and I’m wrecked after that. I don’t know how they do it every single day.

“I definitely have a lot more respect for the work they do. (I’m) definitely a lot more humble. I’ve a new respect for the way my parents work.”

Between delivering food to doors in north Dublin and prepping in the kitchen, Nguyen is content enough that his run in the family business extended to just three weeks. Another family member helped him to keep him work on his physical prowess, his sister giving him the keys of the gym she runs while all other avenues were shut.

The sum total of the 20-year-old’s lockdown stint back home is an intent hunger to get back on the badminton circuit and continue making his mark on the world rankings. He hopes, but does not expect to play an international, ranking tournament before 2021.

But with the Olympics pushed back by a year, the man ranked 26th of 38 qualifiers when the pandemic ground the world to a halt has every right to feel he will be better in July of 2021 than he would have been if the Games went ahead as planned this week.

“In my nind, I feel I am going to Tokyo. 99.9% – hopefully injuries don’t come into it. In my mind I’m all prepared for Tokyo.

“(The Olympic tournament) works with a group stage so I’ll be put in with a top 16 seed. I definitely feel that I can compete with the top 10 players and I feel I can have an upset there if all goes well.

“If prep goes the way I’d like it to – injuries and being focused in my training – hopefully shock the badminton world. Well, that’s my plan.”

A quarter-finalist in both the Youth Olympics and the under-17 world championships, Nguyen has the track record to ensure he won’t arrive at any tournament completely under the radar. Most importantly, he is determined to learn from his earliest experiences on the senior circuit last year.

“When I first came out of juniors I had a lot of expectation and I didn’t live up to it.

“I think my first four tournaments when I turned senior, I didn’t perform very well. I was getting very demotivated, you start questioning yourself when you’re training full-time.

“Once I got my head around that. (Told myself) ‘now I’m a senior player. I’ve to be more mature. Losses will come.’

“Once I got my head around that then results started to come again and things started to look good, performance got better.

“The first few months as a senior were tough, losing first and second rounds, but after that, once I got a couple of wins and rhythm then I was in the latter stage of most tournaments.”

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Red lines run through so many of the competitions that had been set and re-set for the months ahead. So tournaments play remains some way down the track for now.

And when they do roll around, Nguyen is conscious that he ought not to expect all his hard work in the gym, the extra 20-30 kilos he’s added to personal best lifts, these past months to reveal themselves right away.

nhat-nguyen Nguyen pictured for his role as FBD ambassador. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“You can mimic (tournament matches) a little bit in training playing full-out games. But tournaments is just more intense than practice. In practice you don’t want to go too hard and get injured, you have to save yourself a bit for tournaments.

“It will take time to adjust. The first couple of tournaments my goals and targets will be to just get myself back in the zone rather than focusing on results. Great if results come, if things I’ve been working on in training (come off), great. But if it doesn’t, I know it’s only the beginning.”

Along with intensifying training, Nguyen aims to build, sharpen and ramp up his game by playing in the highly competitive German and Danish leagues if they go ahead in October. On top of a chance to earn experience, representing clubs is a chance to earn money through his trade. Having tasted life behind the counter in Clarehall Chinese, he is eager to show he can grind out a living with the racquet rather than the knife.

“I know badminton’s not a real big money sport, but I definitely feel that if you can make it to the top 10-20 in the world then you can make a living for yourself in this sport.

“And that’s what I aim to do… soon.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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