Sunday, 12/11/2023 07:52

Phúc returns to running after doping scandal


Lê Ngọc Phúc (2nd right) runs at the National Athletics Championship 2023. He finishes second earning a silver medal after 16 months banned for doping. VNS Photo Minh Quyết

Thanh Hà

He was not the first one to cross the finish line and had no chance to celebrate. But Lê Ngọc Phúc grabbed people's attention on his return to action after a 16-month ban for doping.

Phúc was satisfied taking silver in the National Athletics Championship 400m event in late October in Hà Nội.

"I have not been allowed to run for more than one year. Now, I have come back and earned silver," Phúc told Việt Nam News. "I am really, really pleased with this result."

The silver was a strong motivation for the 21-year-old, who also secured silver in the 4x400m mixed relay and gold in the men's 4x400m relay in the following days.

Lê Ngọc Phúc in action at the 31st SEA Games' 400m race. His silver medal was stripped due to a positive test for an illegal drug. — Photo

Phúc's ban ended just four weeks before the championship. Despite training normally during the banned months, he wanted to take part in the event to check in on his ability.

"I wanted to find that real competition feeling from this tournament. I will do better than that," Phúc said.

From top to bottom

Phúc was born in 2002 in Cẩm Xuyên District, Hà Tĩnh Province. 

He joined the provincial athletics team in 2017 when he was 15 and was said a potential runner not only of Hà Tĩnh, but also of Việt Nam.

Five years later, he secured a berth in the national team to compete in the 31st SEA Games in Hà Nội last year.

The Hà Nội sporting festival was the first international major of the runner who was the youngest member of the relay team.

Lê Ngọc Phúc (left) participates in the 31st SEA Games' 400m relay race. Việt Nam earned silver but it was stripped after a positive test for an illegal drug. — Photo

Coach Nguyễn Thuận took charge of training Phúc from his first steps in athletics until he joined the national team. Thuận said Phúc would be a secret weapon of Việt Nam in the 31st Games before becoming a star of Việt Nam in the future.

The inexperienced athlete impressed everyone with his outstanding performance.

He claimed silver in the 400m individual, finishing behind a naturalised athlete of Thailand before helping Việt Nam take silver in the men's 4x400m relay.

Phúc was over the moon with the result. He became one of the heroes of Hà Tĩnh Province where sport had not received much care and athletes faced challenges to follow their passion.

"It was my first SEA Games, and it was the first time I wore the national jersey representing Việt Nam internationally. I did not set a high target at all but tried my best to run, and hoped to bag a bronze," he said.

"It seemed that running without pressure and having my mother and other family members on the stand encouraging me were strong pushes. I did a good job and took medals."

However, months later he fell from the top of his game to the bottom as he was one of five Vietnamese athletes who had positive doping tests for Octodrine, a performance enhancer.

As is the case with many athletes, Phúc said he did not intentionally use the drug and that it was a functional supplement that the coaches and team's doctors had said was safe for runners.

Lê Ngọc Phúc (2nd left) and his Hà Tĩnh teammates pose with their gold of the National Athletics Championship's 4x400m relay. — Photo Xmax Media

The team said it was a new kind of supplement and its effects had not been proven when they took it. When the SEA Games was organised, the illegal drugs list was updated and Octodrine was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) list.

All of his medals were stripped and he was banned for 16 months. His chance to prove his coach's prediction was washed away.

On the up

"I was under heavy criticism. Many people assumed that I doped to run faster and stronger," said Phúc.

“However, during the ban, I kept practising as normal to prepare for my return. I long to breathe in a competition environment and taste the feeling of running past many rivals to cross the finish line. I want to show people that the doping violation was an accident. I do not need drugs to achieve success. Everything comes from my ability, hard practice and good preparation."

Lê Ngọc Phúc (2nd left) determines to make stronger comeback after an unexpected doping violation. — Photo Xmax Media

Phúc said that the ban is also a lesson to remember forever. Now he believes that checking all drugs and supplements carefully before using them is a must.

"It was an unexpected violation. We understood and believed in our athlete. We cared and encouraged Phúc during that difficult time and he showed bravery and determination," said coach Thuận.

"A silver on his return is fine. And he will get it better in the relay too. I hope that he will improve in the upcoming events." VNS

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