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Image / Self / Real-life Stories

Women in Sport: Olympic Weightlifter Tham Nguyen


By Sarah Gill
22nd May 2023
Women in Sport: Olympic Weightlifter Tham Nguyen

In this instalment of our Women in Sport series, we hear from Tham Nguyen on her sporting story so far, making history, and her goals for the 2024 Olympics.

Tham Nguyen made history last month as the first Irish weightlifter to win a senior European medal, which came after a seven-year absence from international competition.

The 26-year-old powerhouse is less than five foot tall, and lifts twice her own body weight in the 49 kg division.

With her sights firmly set on representing Team Ireland at the Paris 2024 Olympics, Tham Nguyen shares her sporting story so far…

Name: Tham Nguyen

Profession: Olympic Weightlifter/mam/entrepreneur

Earliest sporting memory?

When I first squatted double bodyweight (100kg) at 17 years old!

How did you become involved in your sport?

I joined a CrossFit gym then later the Olympic weightlifting coach said I had a natural talent at weightlifting and I got to do my first weightlifting competition. After that, I was in love with the sport.

What message would you like to share with young women and girls interested in pursuing a career as an athlete?

1,000% follow your dreams, regardless of what sport or how big the goal. If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough. Pick the sport that you have the most interest in and feel most comfortable doing, and go with it. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of the sportm as long as you love itm it doesn’t matter.

Proudest moment so far…

Being the first female to medal for Ireland, I made history I guess!

The female athlete I admire most is…

Mihaela Cambei, a 49kg lifter – she’s fierce, aggressive and fast, and a very good sporting support. Chanu Saikhom Mirabai, an Indian 49kg weightlifter, her background story relates to mine so I know her hardship and it gives me hope I can become something in weightlifting.

Favourite sporting memory…

Celebrating the joy and happiness, crying with all my teammates after I won Ireland first’s senior medal.

Do you think there is still a stigma around women in sport?

No, not anymore. To the newer generation, there isn’t but to the old generation, there would be superstition about body image.

What is the biggest barrier to driving visibility in women’s sports?

I feel the media favours any sports involving men over women. This would cover anything from football to rugby, golf to boxing. So not getting enough coverage dampens the exposure.

The biggest stigma/preconception that exists in women’s sport is…

That if you are a high-level athlete you become more masculine from training. In reality, it takes a lot of hard work to develop the muscle mass that people think comes from only looking at weights.

If I wasn’t an athlete I would be…

Back to my normal routine — eyelash salon, gym, being a mammy, pushing and driving my business onto another level.

My favourite pre-competition meal is…

Oats with protein powder, Nutella, banana and honey — it’s not really my favourite, but I have to eat it in order to consume enough energy to be able to lift two hours later after weighing in.

My pre-competition/fight/game playlist includes…

Techno! Unce unce unce!

My daily routine is…

Wake up, reply to work emails, check in, get the kids dressed, have breakfast, do they school run, rest, go to training, spend some time with family, reply and check in with work and emails, bathe the kids, and finally, go to sleep.

My biggest sporting goal is…

Qualifying for Paris 2024 with my brother, walking out of the opening ceremony and seeing the amazing crowd.

Sports brands I love (Irish or otherwise)…

Complx Wear! I genuinely only wear leggings from here. I feel the brand represents me so I’m very proud to wear it.

Biggest splurge to celebrate a win…

Cry! I don’t come across as emotional, but to celebrate, I cry because I put in the hard work day in and day out and grind to get where I am. For me, that’s how I express my joy and happiness — they’re happy tears!

How do you mind your mental health?

I used to struggle with this a lot, and especially when it comes to online social media platforms. I faced my fear and have gotten over it now and am on a good path, but I have a very good sports psychologist and he keeps me in a good frame of mind. I chat about everything and leave him to deal with it!

My three desert island beauty products are…

Moisturiser, maybe eyelashes, and perfume. I don’t really wear makeup!

I need 7-8 hours of sleep a night…

To make sure I’m well rested for training, or else I am very fatigued the next day.

What does confidence mean to you?

Loving yourself, being happy, wearing what you want without thinking what others think — being you, and being able to express exactly who that is.

How do you get over a bad performance?

Speak to my sports psychologist Joe, reassess why that has happened with my coach, and improve and make sure it will never happen again.

Lastly, why is sport such an integral part of community, on a club, local, national and personal level?

It brings children, families and elders together regardless of skin colour or ethnicity. Sport builds a community where people feel comfortable, and this creates a massive and incredibly strong bond.