Felisberto de Deus, after finishing second in the men’s 10,000m event, waved a small Vietnamese flag while wrapping himself in his homeland’s banner in celebration of his achievement.

 Felisberto de Deus waves a small Vietnamese flag while wrapping himself in his homeland’s banner in celebration of his achievement. Photo: Hoang Linh

The moment of the 23-year-old athlete holding hands and running together with Vietnamese gold and bronze medal winners Nguyen Van Lai and Le Van Thao, respectively, is considered the most impressive image for Vietnamese and Southeast Asian fans at the sporting event. It was the striking demonstration of SEA Games 31slogan: For a Stronger Southeast Asia.

Hanoi-hosted event highlights sportsmanship 

Though the exciting atmosphere of the event has gone by, the young record holder couldn’t hide his pride and happiness when competing with Lai, his 35-year-old Vietnamese rival at the SEA Games 30 held in the Philippines and the person whom he always admires and is inspired on in his career. 

“I’m happy when competing with him and finishing after him at the Games,” he blissfully told The Hanoi Times. “I really admire Lai. He is a strong athlete and won high achievements in many SEA Games. He inspires me to do better and strive for the highest goals on the track.”

Lai and another Vietnamese runner, who has competed with him at some regional events, are his most important influencers. “They are my second family,” he added. “The Vietnamese athletes make me fall in love with Vietnam and feel eager to visit the country.”

 Felisberto recalls the victorious moment at the interview with The Hanoi Times. Photos: Lai Tan

As Felisberto recalled the victorious moment, he said that by waving the Vietnamese flag, he wanted to celebrate with his two Vietnamese athletes and thank the host country for organizing such a successful SEA Games, where he made a miracle happen. Felisberto said that a large number of Vietnamese spectators at My Dinh Stadium clapping, cheering, then asking to take photos, and even crying with him made him feel very emotional. 

Especially, he was moved when Lai gave him the center of the podium to take souvenir photos at My Dinh stadium. Sportsmanship without geographical, national, and ethnic distances lit up a strong friendship of the Games.

“This is the first time I have been greeted by many Vietnamese people. They made me feel like I’m participating in a competition in my home country. I love Hanoi! I love Vietnam!” he underlined.

Friendly and warm-hearted Hanoian people 

Born into a large peasant family in a poor village, Felisberto started joining the national sports delegation when he was 16 years old. He has learned very hard in extreme conditions for years. For the preparation of the SEA Games 31 in the context of the Covid-19 outbreak, he and his teammates did not have many opportunities to shape themselves up methodically because of the social distancing rules.

However, when landing at Hanoi’s airport for the SEA Games 31, he felt immersed in the festive atmosphere filled with the sports spirit of the capital. 

“Hanoi and Vietnam have been doing great in the regional sports event. We received the best support from Hanoian volunteers and the organizing committees at the venues,” he said.  

Felisberto said he was grateful that a female volunteer helped him find a Timor Leste flag to celebrate when he finished the men’s 10,000m race. “I cried since I felt  loved by the host country’s people during the Games.”

“I will definitely bring my family back to Hanoi for traveling,” said Felisberto.

On his first trip to Hanoi this time, the young runner said he was impressed with the beautiful city with many trees and delicious food. “I love to stroll the streets of Hang Gai and Hang Dao and watch stores selling a variety of products, especially Vietnamese red flags,” he told The Hanoi Times.

“Hanoi people, in particular, are extremely friendly, nice, and kind. Everyone makes me feel at home. If possible, I will definitely bring my family back to Hanoi for traveling,” he said.