Sunday, 19/05/2024 08:23

Making a racket: Phát aims high for Paris Olympics


Lê Đức Phát will make Olympic debut at the Paris Games this summer. VNS Photo Thanh Vũ

Thanh Hà

Facing many challenges on his way to his first ever Olympic slot, Lê Đức Phát was surprised when he became one of the 172 players to compete in badminton.

In mid-April, Phát shared a post of a photo of the qualified player list and commented: "Really, an Olympic qualifier? Don't understand!"

Phát was initially unsure if he was one of the athletes to receive an official slot.

Following a new regulation, any qualification slot that is not used by a national Olympic committee will be reallocated to the next highest eligible athletes on the list. Phát was one of the players to receive the reallocation slots.

Lê Đức Phát is one of two Vietnamese badminton players at the Paris Olympics.  VNS Photo Thanh Vũ

Phát's qualification made national headlines. And he was extremely proud when it was confirmed he would travel to Paris this summer.

"I was extremely nervous, counting the days, and was over the moon when I officially got such a surprising and unbelievable Olympic spot," Phát said.

"I have dreamed of attending an Olympics for seven years. Injuries and the pandemic prevented me from winning a berth at the Tokyo Games. I was determined and prepared carefully for each tournament to accumulate points, and luckily I received great results. I made it."

First time Olympian

Phát began his Paris Olympics campaign in May 2023, when he was outside the world's top 300.

He then took part in 20 international competitions, securing two golds, two silvers and two bronzes.

Lê Đức Phát has overcome many challenges to find his own Olympic slot.  Photo Việt Nam Sports Team

"When everything seemed to be going the right way, I suffered a thigh injury and could not compete for three months. I dropped out of the top 90 in the world ranking and top 40 in the Race to Paris list when it was a critical time for all players to collect as many points as possible," he said.

The 26-year-old was desperate, and seeing his Olympic dream slip away like it did four years ago.

"I thought of giving up. You know, it looks simple, but moving up about 10 places in the rankings is extremely difficult. But people encouraged me saying quitting is easy, and I would lose everything that I had achieved so far," he said.

They were right, and Phát practised again, twice as hard. He had to overcome injury as fast as possible and improve his physique for the comeback.

In two months from February to April, Phát competed in seven events of different levels and reached his targets in most of the tournaments, including a title at the Uganda International Challenge 2024, a key moment that helped him get back in the Paris race.

"I asked myself to do my best, so I would not regret even if I could not qualify for the Olympics."

Phát's Olympic campaign ended in early April when he was knocked out early from the Kazakhstan International Challenge. The result put him on the brink of missing out of the global largest competition because his nearest rivals still had a tournament to play and a chance to replace him.

"If I could enter the final and win the title, the Olympic ticket would be mine. However, I was ousted earlier than expected. I thought it was over," he said.

"Fortunately, my rivals also had poor results. And finally my dream came true. I am so happy that I earned a sweet and deserved result after many difficulties and much effort."

Plan for Paris

Phát is currently competing at the National Badminton Championship in Bắc Giang Province.

Lê Đức Phát hopes to pass Olympics' group stage in his first time at the global largest competition.  VNA/VNS Photo 

In June, he will take part in three competitions in Australia, Malaysia and Chinese Taipei, to prepare for the Olympics.

"It is about two months to go to the Games. I will have an Indonesian coach help me improve my physique and weak points to be ready for big matches," he said.

"I will also attend some tournaments to get in good shape for competition."

Phát said the Olympics was the highest-level playground in badminton, where all the world stars gathered for glory. He doesn't want to go there just to attend, but to show off his professional abilities. 

"In the life of an athlete, everyone dreams of playing at the Olympics. I have had that honour, so I will do my best. With my ranking, I will definitely be in the same group as the top-seeded athletes in Paris. I hope I reach my peak in July and have little luck in the draw so that I pass the group stage," he said.  VNS

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