Hard graft off the court has made Ireland badminton star stronger
You won't find him wondering what might have been. Truth be told, Nhat Nguyen wasn't even aware the Olympics were due to start this week.
If all was right in the world, the 20-year-old Dubliner would be walking into a packed stadium in Tokyo this Friday for the opening ceremony, but that dream has long been kicked down the road. Out of sight and - for now, at least - out of mind.
Badminton isn't his whole life, but it's damn near close to it. With the competitive calendar for the next few months now a landscape of scorched earth, the three-time national champion figures it might be 2021 before he gets to strike a shuttlecock internationally.
And yet, the grind goes on. His usual training base was off limits until June but Nguyen, like a true man of his craft, found a way to adjust. His sister Thammy owns a CrossFit gym in Baldoyle, not far from his home in Clarehall, so he took himself to that deserted space every morning to do conditioning work. "I was getting really fit and a lot stronger," he says.
Keen not to let his playing skills slide, he cleared the floor and made a makeshift badminton court, standing opposite a shuttle feeder machine for hours on end. "I didn't tell (my sister) because there was a big mess," he says.
Since doing his Leaving Cert in 2018, Nguyen has been all-in on the sport, churning his way up the rankings to become a top-30 player, which saw him comfortably within the cut-off for Olympic qualification.
On a usual year he'd travel to 20 international tournaments and be away from his family for up to three months at a time. As such, this time at home has been a welcome change.
Since March he's spoken to his sister most nights and enjoyed plenty of time with his 18-month niece, Lily. "I had chosen the Olympic life and you don't get those little things," he says. His parents run a Chinese takeaway in Clarehall and for several weeks he lent a helping hand, clocking in at 5pm each day - often with two training sessions already under his belt - and working until 11.
He'd deliver food or chop carrots and onions in the kitchen, getting his first true taste of his parents' way of life.
"It definitely made me feel more appreciative and humble to see how hard they work for me to let me travel around the world," he says. "I'm a lot more grateful."
The jury is still out on whether the Olympics can take place in 2021, but even if they fall by the wayside Nguyen will take it in his stride. "If it goes ahead, I get an experience, a chance to show my level and my name in the badminton world but if it doesn't I've still got another 10-plus years in me so I've got a lot more opportunities."
Having turned 20 last month, an extra 12 months certainly won't do his cause any harm.
"That's the way I look at it, another year of training, another year of doing weights, gym, getting stronger and fitter, maturing. A lot can happen in a year so hopefully I can mature my game and cause an upset in an Olympics. That's how I feel."
In Rio four years ago, Scott Evans caused half the country to hop on a badminton bandwagon by reaching the last 16 in the men's singles and, if or when the Games take place, Nguyen will go to Tokyo on a similar mission.
"That's definitely my plan, to emulate what Scott did," he says. "I definitely feel I (can do) something like that - shock the world and put myself in the news."