Vietnam’s leading table tennis star Doan Kien Quoc brought home great honor in the first days of the Lunar New Year when he grabbed the sole Southeast Asian men’s qualifying ticket to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Up next is the tremendous responsibility to play well and represent the nation on the world’s grandest sports stage.
Speaking with Thanh Nien in an interview, Quoc reveals, “I am very happy because this is the second time I have captured the honor. Last time, I was the only Southeast Asian table tennis player attending the 2004 Athens Olympics. This time, I once again won the single official qualifying ticket for the region.”
“Two Singaporean players - Gao Ning ranked 10th and Yang Zi ranked 23rd in the world - gained automatic spots to the 2008 Olympics without having to compete in the qualifying round. Other players in the Southeast Asian region had to participate in the qualifier for the one remaining ticket. Winning it was a great accomplishment for me. I am very proud of myself,” Quoc explained.
Each country sent two to three high-ranking players to the qualifier.
Quoc and another Vietnamese table tennis star, Nguyen Nam Hai, runner-up at the 24th Southeast Asian Games last year, represented Vietnam.
In the preliminary round robin, Quoc won all four matches against Phuchong Sanguansin, Chaisit Chaitat from Thailand, Indonesian player Yon Mardiono, and Malaysian representative Chai Kian Beng.
Quoc subsequently defeated Thai player Phakphoom Sanguansin 4-1 while Singaporean Cai Xiao Li lost 3-4 to Phuchong in the semifinals.
In the final round, Quoc again beat Phuchong 4-2.
It was a challenging game for Quoc because Phuchong is a big Thai star who plays very well and has improved much recently after attending training courses abroad.
“It was Phuchong who defeated me 3-1 in the team semifinal at the 24th SEA Games last year,” Quoc reminded.
“In the qualifying round, I had beaten him 3-2, but it was a very hard match,” Quoc said.
“However, I was not afraid of him when I had to play him again because I learnt a good lesson at the 24th SEA games. I played actively and attacked continuously from the beginning and Phuchong was a bit passive and not calm enough,” Quoc added.
When asked whether it would have been more difficult for Quoc to play Cai Xiao Li, he said he didn’t think so because all players who reached the semifinals are of similar ability.
“I have played Cai Xiao Li a few times and I think I can play as well as he does,” Quoc said.
“I am not afraid of him. Cai Xiao Li is often under intense pressure, especially when playing at home. Perhaps that was why he lost in the semifinal.”
When asked whether he is prepared for the big event in Beijing in August, Quoc replied that he plans to play in a preliminary event in China later this month, after which hewill train intensively to be ready for the international competition.
“At the 2004 Athens Olympic, I lost 1-4 to Chinese-born Italian player Yang Min in the first round. This time, I will try harder. I will play my best and hope to achieve better results,” Quoc said.
Regarding his future plans, Quoc shares that he has played for his hometown and nation for the last 20 years.
Local authorities have given him a chance to take part-time university courses, but he regrets his lack of academic progress due to overwhelming training and competition commitments.
Quoc also expresses that he wants to contribute to the development of table tennis in Vietnam after he retires from competition.