Vietnamese player Van Hung Nguyen a SEAG gold medalist and Olympian - in taekwondo
Vietnamese center Van Hung Nguyen is a two-sport star who won three taekwondo gold medals in the SEA Games and took part in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Jerome Ascano

WHILE Gilas Pilipinas is still searching for that elusive Olympic slot in basketball, one player from Vietnam has already reached a pinnacle that every athlete dreams off.

His name is Nguyen Van Hung, the 37-year-old center of the Vietnam team that is competing in the Seaba Championship in Manila.

Nine years ago, Van Hung was one of the 13 athletes of Vietnam in the 2008 Beijing Olympics where he represented his country in taekwondo.

Van Hung said he took up basketball because he wanted a new challenge after dominating the 87kg division in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, winning three gold medals.

He was in fact the gold medalist in his weight class back when the Philippines last hosted the SEA Games in 2005.

“Because in Southeast Asia, he was the champion and no one can pass him. So he decided to play in another sport,” Van Hung’s interpreter said of the two-sport athlete.

[See Vietnam shrugs off tough stand by Myanmar]

Van Hung is no slouch in basketball, either. In a win against Myanmar on Sunday, the Vietnamese center scored 22 points on 11-of-18 shooting to go with 12 boards and three assists.

Van Hung said the transition was not difficult because he was already playing basketball even when he was deep in taekwondo.

Aside from the Seaba Championship, Van Hung recently played for the Saigon Heat in the Asean Basketball League (ABL).

“While he was playing taekwondo, he was playing basketball to improve his strength and skill,” said the interpreter.

“He was playing basketball since he was a child. Now, he can play as a player of the national team and the club team in the ABL. He is very happy about it,” said the interpreter.

Van Hung said he is still very much into taekwondo as coach of the Vietnam national team, and even knows the Philippines' own national team head coach, Roberto 'Kitoy' Cruz.

Understandably, he is proudest of his Olympic accomplishment.

“He felt very proud to be present in the Olympics. Every athlete that come to the Olympics and get a medal is the best,” the interpreter said.

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