NEVER give up your dreams.
That’s the message from Tham Nguyen who has just become the first Irish weightlifter to win a senior European medal, a historic achievement which came after her seven-year absence from international competition. The 26-year-old powerhouse from Clare Hall in Dublin is less than five foot tall but lifts twice her own body weight in the 49kg division.
Olympic weightlifting is scored on a combination of two best lifts in the snatch and clean and jerk disciplines and, under the sport’s Sinclair score (based on a combination of weight lifted by a co-efficient based on body weight), Nguyen is Weightlifting Ireland’s #1 ranked female. At her first European senior Championships in Armenia she lifted 75 kilos in snatch (a competition PB) and 98 kilos in clean and jerk (her PB is 101) for a 173kg total. She took bronze in the clean and jerk and finished fifth overall.
Watching her younger brother Nhat, Ireland’s top badminton player, compete in the Tokyo Olympics reignited her sporting dream and this success has copper fastened her ambition to compete, alongside him, on Team Ireland in Paris 2024.
“I competed in European Juniors in 2016 and one of my goals back then was to compete in the Tokyo Olympics with Nhat. When he walked out in the opening ceremony it just really hit me. “I was sitting at home with my six-month old baby in my arms and this lump in my throat. I am very goal-driven in life and if I don’t achieve one it just haunts me. “So I said to my husband ‘right, I think I want to go back to weightlifting and qualify for the Olympics’.”
She was already back training four months after her second baby but had a new focus then and sourced an expert coach in Malaysia’s Faizal Baharom, an Athens Olympian in 2004. An entrepreneur who owns two eyelash salons (a business she initially set up in her teens to fund her weightlifting) and a Cross-fit gym in Baldoyle, Nguyen is also a mum of two (aged four and two). Strong support from family helps her manage her work and training load but she directly credits a €3000 grant from the Olympic Federation of Ireland’s ‘Make A Difference’ fund for her historic breakthrough in Yerevan.
“Honestly, it got me that medal! I don’t believe I would have won it without the OFI’S ‘Make a Difference’ grant. I usually train in the corner of my own gym in the freezing cold and my coach felt I needed a training camp before the Europeans. That grant funded a three-week training camp in Budapest.”
Training with Irish men’s #1 Sean Brown and national coach Beata Jung in an elite team setting brought out the best in her. “I PB-ed every single lift while I was there, went from 98 to 100 kilos in the clean and jerk, was doing 75 kilos consistently in the snatch, hit a back squat PB of 143 kilos and a strict press of 50 kilos. I was concentrated every single day just because I was in that high performance environment that I needed.”
Nguyen knows she will need to improve her PB to 180kilo+ to qualify for Paris but her fire has been re-lit and next up are the IWF World Championships in Riyadh on September 2-17.