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Racquet star Irish Olympic hopeful Nhat Nguyen 'barely knew a word of English' when he first arrived in Dublin aged 6

Dublin football star Stephen Cluxton helped Nguyen reach the top

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Fifteen years after he left his home in Vietnam
Nhat Nguyen is heading back East to Japan to represent Ireland.

Fifteen years after he left his home in Vietnam Nhat Nguyen is heading back East to Japan to represent Ireland.

Nhat has shone in badminton tournaments.

Nhat has shone in badminton tournaments.

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Fifteen years after he left his home in Vietnam Nhat Nguyen is heading back East to Japan to represent Ireland.

Nhat Nguyen scarcely knew a word of English when he arrived in Dublin as a six-year-old with his parents Lai and Thuy and older sister Thammy.

Now he is on the brink of representing Ireland in badminton at the Tokyo Olympics.

Nhat's grandparents survived the Vietnam war. But winning a war doesn't put bread on the table. In 2006 his parents decided to leave their small village near the country's capital city Hanoi in search of a better life on the other side of the world.

They arrived just before Christmas and Nhat couldn't believe how cold it was. "It is usually between 35 and 40 degrees in Vietnam. I guess it was about five degrees when we arrived in Dublin. It felt so cold."

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Nhat has shone in badminton tournaments.

Nhat has shone in badminton tournaments.

Nhat has shone in badminton tournaments.

Initially the family set up home in Belturbet in Co Cavan. Nhat enrolled in the local national school. "I was in second class in Vietnam, but I started back in first class again because I had to learn English."

The family moved to Santry in 2008 and once they settled Nhat's father started playing badminton in his spare time. The sport is universally popular in Vietnam though Nhat didn't like it when he tried it as a toddler in his native country.

Necessity, though, is the mother of invention. He had few friends in his new home in Dublin, so he spent a lot of time in his father's company. He tagged along when his dad went to play and gradually started to mix with boys of his age who were involved in the sport.

It wasn't long before he wasn't just hooked on the game but good at it as well. In 2013 the family moved again, settling in Clarehall - near Donaghmede - where they now operate a Chinese takeaway restaurant.

The move was beneficial for Nhat's burgeoning badminton career. Travelling by bus between Santry and the badminton centre in Baldoyle was problematic and time-consuming. But in his new home was just a five-minute drive away.

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At the age of 15 Nhat became the youngest ever winner of the Irish Senior Open championship and he also secured a bronze medal at the 2016 European U-17 championships.

But it was his first senior international tournament win at the Welsh Open in 2017 which convinced him he was good enough to turn professional.

"It was a good indication that I could do something in the sport and make a living out of it," he said.

Dublin's All-Ireland GAA captain Stephen Cluxton has been a mentor on his journey. A teacher in St David's CBS in Artane, the Dublin goalkeeper taught Nhat mathematics in third year and physics in his Leaving Certificate years.

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Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton

Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton

Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton

Before Cluxton decided to concentrate on Gaelic football he was a talented badminton player and he helped set up a school team.

"I got on very well with Stephen and helped him with the school team. I remember he came to the 2017 Irish Open championship, as did a lot of my school mates, but unfortunately I lost the final."

Nhat confesses that he has yet to see Cluxton play for Dublin, though a visit to Croke Park to watch the six-in-a-row All-Ireland winners in on his bucket list.

"I'd like to give something back to St David's. I wasn't in the school much in sixth year and the principal was very understanding. I was basically a professional by then and was trying to do two training sessions a day."

Badminton lags behind tennis in terms of prize money on the professional circuit. The winner of the biggest tournament, the World Tours finals, receives £100,000 whereas the winner of the men's singles at Wimbledon pockets €2.6m.

Without the support of FBD, Sports Ireland and the Badminton Association, Nhat could not afford to pursue his dream.

"It is not good going into a tournament thinking about the prize money I might win. It you are ranked in the top 20 or 30 players in the world then you can get better sponsorship deals and make a decent living."

Nhat is currently ranked 53rd with career earnings of €8,555 and with a record of 160 wins and 64 losses in ranking tournament games.

Despite his busy schedule he continues to help his parents run the family business. "I know the northside of Dublin very well because I would do deliveries, particularly at weekend when they are very busy."

Ireland's best known badminton player, Scott Evans, who reached the last 16 of the men's singles at the Rio Olympics in 2016, moved to Denmark, the leading European nation in the sport, to purse his career while still in his teens.

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Scott Evans celebrates his win at the Rio Olympics.

Scott Evans celebrates his win at the Rio Olympics.

Scott Evans celebrates his win at the Rio Olympics.

Twenty-year-old Nhat explains why he opted to stay at home.

"It worked for him but I'm not Scott, I'm Nhat. At the time Scott left there was no system or training centre in Ireland. Now we have a centre (in Abbotstown) and this was a big influence in my decision to stay because we can bring in players to spar with."

Evans famously ripped off his shirt in celebration after beating the local favourite at the Olympic tournament in Rio.

Nhat did likewise after his shock first round win over the number 13 seed Srikanth Kidambi in the opening round of the All England Open on St Patrick's Day.

There was one problem though - the moment went unrecorded.

"It was literally the first match in the tournament, and it appears there were no photographs there and the games were not being streamed because nobody was allowed into the stand to film due to Covid-19. I was waiting to see the pictures of me taking off my top, but they never appeared."

While it won't be confirmed until June, Nguyen is virtually certainly to qualify for the rescheduled Olympics as he is comfortably inside the cut-off point. But his preparations continue to be hampered by long Covid-19.

Though he tested positive in January for the virus he has not fully recovered.

"I get tired really quickly and my energy levels are not there. I've getting better slowly so that's a good sign. I must be more energy efficient and smarter in my play. I can't be going out too fast.

"It was always one of my goals when I was younger to represent Ireland at the Olympics. Everybody wants to represent their country at the highest level and on the biggest stage in the world.

"For my parents it be a great achievement to see me live on TV at the Olympics. But I want to do well as well and create a result."

Fifteen years after he left his home in Vietnam Nhat Nguyen is heading back East to Japan in July where he hopes he can rip off his green shirt after winning a game in the Olympic tournament.


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