Thursday, January 10, 2008

Was Indonesia success in Thailand illusory?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Damar Harsanto and Matheos Viktor Messakh, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia accomplished its mission of finishing fourth at the Southeast Asian Games in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, earlier this month. That was better than two years ago in the Philippines, when Indonesia finished fifth.

With 56 gold, 64 silver and 83 bronze medals, Indonesia deserved to celebrate. However, one question remains: Do the results reflect the real situation of the country's sports development?

This is worth asking because more than half of Indonesia's gold medals came from just six sports, out of the 38 in which it participated.

The six sports were badminton and track and field, each contributing seven gold medals; weightlifting, pencak silat and cycling with five golds each; and canoeing and kayaking with a total of four golds.

Archery delivered three gold medals, and other sports had one or two at best.

Furthermore, the gold-medal sweep in badminton has an asterisk attached. Our team took advantage of the absence of Malaysia's top shuttlers, who were resting to gear up for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Indonesia opted to perform fully armed.

When asked about the Badminton Association of Indonesia (PBSI)'s policy, head of training Lius Pongoh said: "Don't ask us. Ask the government why they burdened us with a target of four gold medals. We had no other option but to play with full force."

PBSI was not the only sports organization fielding its top athletes to compete in regional events. Indonesia relies on its old hands to guarantee gold medals.

"We field senior athletes because they are the best that we have right now. Most juniors were not good enough during the qualifying screening for the SEA Games," said Achmad Sutjipto, head of the country's special task force for the Games.

"We only send those who can win, not just compete (to gain experience)," State Minister for Youth and Sports Affairs Adhyaksa Dault said.

A month before the national contingent's departure to Thailand, the minister boasted that a third place in the Games would be within reach.

With an all-out effort like this, Indonesia should have won more gold in other sports.

Some athletes who shone at the Philippines Games two years ago -- including shooter Bary Agustini, bowlers Ryan Leonard Lalisang and Putty Insavilla Armein, Wynne Prakusya in tennis, Sony Dwi Kuncoro in badminton, Muhammad Hussein in table tennis, Peter Taslim in judo, Christo Mondolu in karate, Basuki Nugroho in taekwondo, Susyana Tjan in wushu -- crashed out.

We often forget that those athletes may not be able to carry a heavy burden on their shoulders every time there are multi-sport events.

Even President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told them not to worry about the final outcome.

"Do your best and give it your all. Don't be afraid of losing and don't let yourselves be burdened by it," he said when meeting the 400-strong squad at the Merdeka Palace yard.

Interestingly, new faces and youngsters who were considered second-rate athletes came out to fight for their places among the lineup of champions, brimming with motivation to accomplish the task their seniors had failed to carry out.

The good news is we have a list of them, much longer than the above list of medal hopefuls.

They are competitors like Tannya Roumimper and Sharon Limansantoso in bowling, Suryo Agung Wibowo, Triyaningsih, Yahuza and Dwi Ratnawati in track and field, Ika Yuliana and I Gusti Nyoman Puruhito in archery, Sandy Gumulya in tennis, Pia Zebadiah Bernadet in badminton, Angeline Magdalena Ticoalu in billiards, Andy Arselawandi in bodybuilding, Ryan Ariehaan Hillmant in road cycling, Shenny Amelia in diving, and Edi Kurniawan, Eko Yuli Irawan and Sinta Darmariani in weightlifting.

From the world of martial arts, there are new names like Freddy in wushu, Ira Purnamasari in judo, Aswar Ismail in karate, Diyan Kristiyanto, Pengki Simbar, Ni Nyoman Suparniti, Tuti Winarni in pencak silat, Amalia Kurniasih Palupi in taekwondo, and Eko Yuli Irawan and Fahriyansah in wrestling.

Those winners are now enjoying a Rp 200 million (US$21,505) cash bonus each -- with the exception of double gold medalists like Suryo, Triyaningsih and the badminton squad, who get double.

But there is a good lesson to be learned from Indonesian Track and Field Association chairman Bob Hasan, who chose to provide the bonus in the form of scholarships and employment.

National Sports Council chairwoman Rita Subowo said after her election earlier this year that she would prioritize providing scholarships for these world-class athletes, as "they need the bait instead of the fish".

There was also a new phenomenon on display during these Games: sports organizations helped by a team of foreign coaches and experts were the ones that excelled.

This exposes our coaches' lack of knowledge of sports sciences. It is time for the Council to require national coaches to go to more workshops and trainings to support them in designing the best programs. Learning from foreign experts is just one way. Another way is to make use of the School of Sports Science in several state universities.

Most of our young athletes now face a challenge to prove that their victories at the Games were not a fluke. They need support from the relevant sports associations to give them the chance to compete in bigger events.

In the next eight months, Indonesian athletes will face the world's biggest multi-sport event: the Olympic Games in Beijing. The government has promised to help groom the juniors for the quadrennial event.

"I will establish a special task force to follow up on those young athletes who win gold in the SEA Games. I want them to be trained in a special and intensive camp. We will allocate Rp 1 billion to groom them," Adhyaksa said.

Let's hope it is not just an empty promise from a state official, who is happy that his mission was accomplished -- partly thanks to those young gold medalists.

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