Fri, 22 Sep 2000

Indonesia's first gold in Sydney

By Primastuti Handayani

SYDNEY (JP): Men's badminton doubles Candra Wijaya and Tony Gunawan lived up to their world number one status, lifting their struggling nation to an Olympic gold medal on Thursday.

Not only did the victory end a long wait, it maintained Indonesia's gold medal winning tradition in the Olympic Games dating back to the memorable twin victories of Susi Susanti and her boyfriend Alan Budikusuma in Barcelona eight years ago.

Tony and Candra, who emulated their seniors Rexy Mainaky and Ricky Subagdja, were pushed to the limit in dousing the fire of South Korean archrivals and second seeds Lee Dong-soo and Yoo Yong-sung 15-10, 9-15, 15-7 in a marathon final lasting 77 minutes.

The bronze also went to South Korea, with world champions Ha Tae-Kwon and Kim Dong-Moon ending Malaysia's hopes of a 2000 Olympic badminton medal.

Draped in the national flag, Candra and Tony rounded the court in a victory lap amid cheers from spectators. For a moment, the Dome's Pavilion 3 at Sydney's Olympic sports complex resembled the Senayan indoor stadium in Jakarta.

Tony broke into tears as chef de mission Arie Sudewo and the Badminton Association of Indonesia (PBSI) chairman Subagyo Hadisiswoyo greeted them in the changing room.

President Abdurrahman Wahid congratulated the men's doubles team for their win "which brings fame to the nation" and the country's female weightlifters Raesma Lisa Rumbewas and Winarni who snatched a bronze each earlier this week.

The success soothed the pain Indonesia had earlier suffered after the mixed doubles team of Tri Kusharjanto and Minarti Timur fell in the final hurdles, bowing out to Chinese newcomers Zhang Jun and Gao Ling 15-1, 13-15, 15-11 in 64 minutes.

"I can't believe it. God blessed me. I have dedicated my life to the sport and I deserved this. All I have in my mind is to present a gold to Indonesia," an emotional Candra said.

"Winning an Olympic gold is every athlete's dream. I still can't believe it. It's like a dream. We didn't think of strategy on court, we just knew we had the motivation and a better fighting spirit than our contenders," Tony said.

Head coach Christian Hadinata agreed, also attributing his prodigies' victory to their fighting spirit.

"Both teams are equal in terms of technical skills, and had often met in regular competitions before," said Christian, one of Indonesia's living legends of badminton.

The duo will receive a cash bonus of Rp 1 billion (US$1.25 million) each from the company that produces the drink Extra Joss.

After a relatively easy win in the opening set, Candra and Tony quickly fell behind in the second game. Trailing 3-8, they closed in to 7-8 before the Koreans mounted attacks to force extra time.

In the do-or-die decider, Candra and Tony comfortably led 10-4 and looked as if they would clinch the match after holding a match point at 14-6. The Koreans delivered a brief scare before the composed Indonesians sealed the drama.

Indonesia could seize another gold with Hendrawan, who will play his men's singles semifinal match against Xie Xuanze of China on Friday. Having met three times before, the Chinese player holds a 2-1 win-loss record against Hendrawan.

In the mixed doubles, Tri spoiled his chance of winning the gold medal as a farewell gift to partner Minarti when they failed to overcome the offensive pressure from Chinese Zhang Jun and Gao Ling.

The Indonesians, who upstaged their English opponents after a set and 1-10 down in Wednesday's semifinals, displayed a superb comeback after falling 3-11 behind in the deciding set of their final. They failed to repeat this performance during the final against the Chinese despite scoring seven straight points before a smash and a lucky net cord from the Chinese ended their gamely fight.

"Just as the Chinese pair started to fight back in the second game, we began to lose our confidence and that made me unable to unleash smashes. In the third game, they were more confident than us," a dejected Tri said.

Coach Richard Mainaky said the result was much better than the Atlanta Olympics four years ago when the Indonesian pair bowed out to South Koreans Kim Dong-moon and Gil Yoong-ah in the quarterfinals.

"They were very close to the victory. It's good they could reach the final but I'm satisfied with the result although we only won the silver," Richard said.