Wed, 03 Dec 2003

RI athletes raring to go for gold

Zakki Hakim and Musthofid, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Djoko Pramono, chief-de-mission of the Indonesian delegation to the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, sent out the message loud and clear: 'We won't be sitting back on our haunches.' The SEA Games will kick off on Friday in Vietnam.

"We are not dozing after a serious seven-month workout," he said before the departure of the second group of Indonesian athletes to Vietnam.

Djoko is in charge of development at the National Sports Council (KONI).

As an aide to KONI chairman Agum Gumelar, Djoko has stressed that the 2003 SEA Games, which will run from Dec. 5 to 14, should be taken as a stepping-stone to higher international tournaments.

The policy means that Indonesia, which has less of a competitive edge today than in the past, will not be pushing for the overall championship.

Indonesia enjoyed a glorious standing as overall champions since its initial entry into the SEA Games in 1977 until two years ago. In 2001 and 2002, respectively, rivals Thailand and Malaysia took home the trophy.

Djoko is confident about his team, made up of young athletes with the potential of being forged into strong future contenders.

"But this doesn't mean we will be complacent about getting more experience. We will be fighting it out," he said.

"We are not fighting for the (overall) championship, but to win as many golds as possible."

Given the results in 1999 and 2001, years when Indonesia finished third, Djoko said that the pendulum of strength had swung away from Indonesia and that hoping to rank number one in Vietnam would be a dream not to come true.

On Tuesday, 379 athletes and officials embarked on their flight to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the host cities of the Games.

Indonesia is sending 597 athletes and 269 officials, who will be competing in 28 of the 32 events in Vietnam.

The athletes are representing Indonesia in archery, aquatics, athletics, badminton, basketball, billiard, boxing, canoeing, chess, cycling, fencing, fin-swimming, gymnastics, judo, karate, pencak silat, sepak takraw, shooting, soccer, table tennis, tae kwon do, tennis, volleyball, weightlifting, wrestling, and wushu.

The first group of the Indonesian delegation, comprising 242 members, left on Friday, and the remainder will make the journey between Dec. 3 and Dec. 7.

Indonesia will be looking to collect around 70 gold medals from the 427 on offer.

Agum, also the Minister of Communications, saw off the athletes in an official ceremony with words of encouragement, saying they would be able to achieve a satisfying performance.

He was confident that the squad was ready both physically and mentally, and was thus optimistic about their performance.

Agum also reminded the athletes of their non-sporting tasks as Indonesia's envoys to foster good relations with neighbors through sports.

The athletes looked in high spirits and optimistic.

Siti Nurjanah, a beach volleyball player, told reporters that she would do her best in the SEA Games and asked for support from all Indonesians.

"Pray for us, and wish the contingent the best," she said.

Fencing athlete Indra Krisnamusi said he was fired up about the competition and hoped he would become part of the Indonesia Awakens program.

The program aims to net the 100 best athletes from the SEA Games in preparation for bigger events, such as the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar.

"Such a scheme would certainly brighten the future of Indonesian sports in the region, as well as the athletes' future," he said.