Nghivinh "Nipa" Tran wants to be Finland's fastest sprinter
Tran's birthplace Vietnam now only a distant memory
By Ari Pusa in Gothenburg, Sweden
If Nghivinh Tran were to represent the country of his birth, Vietnam, he would be the Asian nation's fastest track sprinter. In his present homeland of Finland he has not quite got there yet.
"No, but it is my goal", says Tran, who is taking part this week in the 100 metres at the European Athletics Championships in Gothenburg, his first solo appearance at adult level in a major championship. At last August's World Championships in Helsinki he was in the Finnish 4x100 metres relay team, but did not take part in any individual events.
Tran is a welcome addition to the Finnish track and field team. He is easy to talk to, and chats relaxedly. He also speaks good Finnish, and every so often one can pick up a piquant extra in the form of a slight local Turku accent.
The 28-year-old moved to Finland in July 1988 at the age of eleven in the company of his mother, his uncle, and one of his younger sisters. His other sister and his stepfather followed in 1990.
Political reasons obliged the family to leave Vietnam. They settled in Finland in Turku on the west coast. As a schoolboy there Tran also found himself on occasions on the wrong end of racist taunts.
"But gradually everyone got to understand that I want to be completely Finnish", he says.
Tran's biological father still lives in Vietnam. "I haven't heard anything from him. I don't know where he lives, and I really don't want to know", is all Tran wishes to say on the subject.
On the other hand, he would like to go back to visit Vietnam one of these days.
"The country has become a real tourist paradise after the US lifted its trade embargo and normalised relations with Hanoi. It would also be nice to see my grandparents, who are still living there."
Tran's hometown was Vinh Long, a town of around 120,000 on the Mekong River, south-west from HoChi Minh City (Saigon).
Tran now lives with his common-law wife in Turku. His parents have since moved to Germany.
In the spring he graduated with a degree in computer science from a vocational school, and in the fall he will be enrolling at a polytechnic for a three and a half year course of study leading to a BBA qualification.
After that he is planning for a career in IT. His sporting ambition is to be on the Finnish roster for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Tran took up sports when he came to Finland as a means of adapting more easily to his adopted country. Initially he went in for gymnastics, until he noticed that he was faster on his feet than his fellows.
Actual sprinter training began only when Tran turned sixteen. "It was only then that I got into training in earnest", he recalls in the lobby of the Finnish team's hotel in downtown Gothenburg.
Sweden is a familiar enough country to Tran from previous cometitions, but he does not speak Swedish.
"I was excused Swedish lessons at school since I was supposed to concentrate on improving my Finnish", he explains. "With my parents I still speak exclusively Vietnamese."
Tran is preparing to leave for the Ullevi Stadium for some last-minute practice.
"I'm only working on starts, nothing else. I'm trying not to get overexcited."
The Finnish track and field fraternity have christened Tran "Nipa", because his real first name is so hard to pronounce correctly.
Tran accepts his new nickname without demur, but says it does not do to use it within earshot of his mother.
"My mother wants me to be called Nghivinh, as it is an old and respected Imperial name in Vietnam."
If we are brutally honest, Nghi Tran is unlikely to feature among the medallists at the European Championships this week. His personal best for the 100 metres is 10.40, run a year ago in Tallinn.
This season he has a best time of 10.42, but his target is to get below 10.30 and become Finland's fastest man. Tommi Hartonen's Finnish record of 10.21 is still some way off.
"Tommi is my greatest source of motivation for as long as he is faster than me. We are also mates off the track. I last chatted to him in the heats at the Kalevala Games in Jyväskylä [the Finnish Nationals], but since then I haven't seen him."
Tran was 2nd in the 100 metres in Jyväskylä, missing out on gold by 1/100th of a second, but made amends in the 200 metres, winning comfortably in a personal best time of 21.19. Hartonen, who is still recovering from an ankle injury, withdrew from the semi-finals of the 100 metres and did not start in the 200.
In addition to Tran, the Finnish team has two other entrants in the heats for the 100 metres, Jarkko Ruostekivi and Simo Sipilä.
It is actually a minor miracle that three Finnish names have been put up for the 100, since Hartonen has been named for the 200 metres and the short relay, and the No.2 sprinter Markus Pöyhönen is out with injury.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 7.8.2006
Nipa Tran finished third in his opening heat in a time of 10.50 and progressed automatically to the second round. His fellow Finnish sprinters also progressed. This was as good as it got, however, and Tran came home last in his second-round heat in the evening in a rather disappointing time of 10.67. Jarkko Ruostekivi and Sami Sipilä were also eliminated at this stage. The semi-finals for the men's 4x100 metres relay will be held on Saturday.
Nipatran.net (in Finnish)
European Athletics Championships
ARI PUSA / Helsingin Sanomat