Sprinter Zohri buoys hosts’ medal hopes

Sprinter Lalu Zohri has given Indonesia an unexpected confidence-boost as the Asian Games hosts look to pull off their first top-10 medals finish in decades.

Zohri, 18, won the hearts of Indonesians last month with a shock 100 metres win over two American rivals at the world junior championships in Finland.

It was the first medal for an Indonesian athlete at the under-20 tournament and capped a heady rise for Zohri, who was raised in a bamboo shack and trained barefoot on the beach as a youngster.

Now, Zohri is facing his biggest test as he competes against older and faster athletes at the world's second-largest multi-sport event.

"My goal is to give my best for Indonesia," Zohri, who clocked 10.18sec to win world gold, said after a training session in Jakarta. "But I'm not targeting a medal in the 100m."

Still, his unlikely rise has given Indonesia a glimmer of hope that they, too, can manage a surprise showing - and overcome a history of middling performances internationally.

Badminton, weightlifting, pencak silat and even paragliding are all potential medal sports for the hosts at the Games in Jakarta and Palembang from tomorrow to Sept 2. Despite a population of more than 260 million, Indonesia frequently trail smaller South-east Asian nations like Malaysia and Thailand at the Asian Games.

Indonesia have ranked no better than 13th at the past four Asiads and finished in the top 10 in 1990. They were 17th at the 2014 Games in Incheon.

Although the Asiad allow hosts to tailor the programme to suit their strengths, some remain sceptical that Indonesia can finish in the top 10.

"Last year we had a very poor performance at the South-east Asia Games with the same athletes, so I think it is really difficult to achieve," sports analyst Fritz Simanjuntak said.

They ranked fifth at the KL SEA Games last year behind hosts Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore. - AFP