Gym dandy

Gareth Pang

Germany's Marcel Nguyen won not only two Olympic silvers in gymnastics, but also many female fans

Gareth Pang |

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Everybody loves a winner, goes the saying, so when you're an Olympic gold medallist, you can expect attention from the media and the public.

But Marcel Nguyen won two gymnastics silver medals for Germany at the London Games last year - the latter was Germany's first in the all-round since the 1936 Games in Berlin. The reception he got while in Hong Kong on a six-day visit really surprised him.

"I didn't expect to have such great success [in London], and it's amazing to have so many fans all round the world, especially in Hong Kong," he said last week while talking with Young Post junior reporters at a New Year event at Tsim Sha Tsui Centre.

Anyone who spends any time online at all must have seen the videos of him coming second on the parallel bars and in the individual all-round which went viral on social networks last summer.

To say Nguyen, 25, is popular in Hong Kong would be an understatement. He said he had more than 230,000 fans on Facebook so far, many of whom are from our city. His sporting achievements aside, Nguyen's good looks - mum's German and dad's Vietnamese - with his signature combed-back hairstyle - and chiselled physique also contribute to his huge global fan base.

His sister Denise, who used to study in China, set up a Weibo account for him in August. One of the updates says he receives the most fan letters from Hong Kong.

Nguyen enjoyed a warm reception from fans in Hong Kong, but conceded the fan culture here is very different from that in Germany. "Fans [here] follow me all the time, and some try to follow me back to the hotel," he says.

When asked how he deals with the deluge of fan mail, he says: "I have a postbox in my hometown. My family and I go through the letters from time to time."

Nguyen's story of "overnight success" is fairly typical: he's been training in gymnastics since the age of four, and yet he still loves it. "It won't be easy all the time, but when you have success, you know why you are doing all this," he says.

And while all world-class gymnasts need a talent for the sport, that's only the start. "The most important quality for a successful gymnast is discipline," he says.

A life dedicated to strict training routines and a special diet for competitions can be testing, he says, but his biggest sacrifice is his time away from his family. He trains in Stuttgart, in southwest Germany. His family live in Munich, about 230 kilometres away.

"I try [to see my family] as often as I can, but it's not very often; maybe a few times a year," he says.

That's another reason the trip to Hong Kong was special for him: his family came along, which is a rarity.

When he returns to Germany, it's time to go back to work. The pommel horse and parallel bars are waiting for him, and he's hungry for further success.

"My next competition is the World Cup at the beginning of March, in America," he says. The American Cup, the start of this year's World Cup series, will take place on March 2 in Worcester, Massachusetts.

It's probably no surprise, then, that his New Year's resolution is to stay healthy and injury-free.