Busan Gold: You Don't Get What You Pay for
Despite a budget of more than Rp32 billion, Indonesian athletes will only bring home a fistful of gold medals from the Asian Games in Busan.
Wismoyo Arismunandar resembles a taxi driver in pursuit of passengers. In the morning, the President of the National Sports Council (KONI) can be seen at Busan's Main Stadium. Late morning, he's to be found at the Guemjeong Tennis Courts, in northern Busan. In the afternoon, he shows up at the Gangseo Stadium, west of Busan, waiting for the badminton team to strut their stuff. All day and all night last Wednesday, the former Army Chief of Staff covered over 100 kilometers to cheer his athletes on.
Wismoyo is carrying a heavy load indeed. President Megawati's message: If possible, the contingent should bring home 15 gold medals. However, with only three days left of the Busan Asian Games, the team had managed just two gold medals, in sailing and women's team tennis.
Megawati is probably asking too much. Historically, Indonesia's best performance was in 1962, when Jakarta hosted the event, capturing 11 gold and securing third place. Based on that, KONI only dared ask its athletes try for more than the six gold medals bagged at the Bangkok Asian Games four years ago.
Yet, even that seems a tough act to match. Indonesia is pinning her hopes on badminton and women's doubles in tennis. Let's say Taufik Hidayat or Hendrawan and the men's doubles get gold, that's only four. Let us further imagine that Angie and Wynne Prakusya are successful in the quest for gold in the women's doubles, that's still only five. Six seems quite out of reach.
Nevertheless, the fight for gold must be unto the death. That's why, when the badminton team in the group competition faced South Korea last Wednesday, and Taufik Hidayat refused to continue playing, Wismoyo immediately called Christian Hadinata, Indonesia's badminton coach. He instructed Taufik to return to the courts, even though he felt he was being cheated by a Korean linesman. "They've corrected their mistake, let it pass," said the retired general when the umpire corrected the mistake.
In the end, Taufik lost. The men's badminton team failed to grab a gold. A chance to overcome the dearth of gold medals slipped through our fingers. The badminton individual team is likely to have to fight hard for gold as well.
Besides badminton, the cycling team also failed to reach the target of two gold medals. Prior to departure, the team was hoping to repeat history from 40 years ago, when Indonesia managed to capture gold at the Jakarta Asian Games. At last year's SEA Games, the Indonesian team brought home 11 gold medals. But at the Asian level, it was difficult for the 14 cyclists to win the target of two golds.
Male cyclist Tonton Susanto, in the 50 kilometer individual time trial race which he excels at, had to concede defeat at the hands of three cyclists from the former Soviet Union. Why? The team's answer was a cliché: the white Caucasian cyclists were part of the European team so their strengths hadn't been detected. This was a feeble excuse because eight years ago, five countries from the former Soviet Union already participated in the Asian Games in Hiroshima. The second gold that Santia Tri Kusuma in the point race was expected to win, was also lost to us; we got a bronze instead.
The worst performance was in rowing. With a17-strong team, this sport sent the largest number of athletes. All of them had medals under their belts. However, their domination at the Southeast level wasn't strong enough, against the Chinese and the Japanese.
KONI's promise to send only athletes with chances of grabbing a medal doesn't apply to this sport. Alas, after all that, they could only contribute a bronze through Rodiaman in the men's lightweight fours. Lasmin, Indonesia's oarsman at Asian level, didn't go to Busan at all. In the middle of training, the athlete from Southeast Sulawesi insisted on returning home because his left knee hurt. In addition, the silver medallist at the Bangkok Asian Games (1998) claimed that he had to process the documents required to become a civil servant.
Right from the beginning, Lasmin had been reluctant to attend training at the center in Jatiluhur, West Java. The reason? To keep himself and his familycomprising his mother, wife, and babyafloat, the 26-year-old drives a mikrolet (mini bus) and works the soil. "I need money to feed them," Lasmin reasoned. He also doubted that KONI would give him a car as a prize if he got the gold in Busan. He was once promised Rp55 million if he won gold at the SEA Games in Jakarta in 1997, and the Asian Games in Bangkok. But the money was never forthcoming. Recently, after he became angry, he received Rp5 million from the KONI management in his region.
What caused all these failures? According to badminton observer, Justian Suhandinata, it's not fair to heap all the blame on the athletes. He mentioned, as illustration, the controversial incident in the finals of the men's badminton group. It was like watching a replay of the Asian Games in Seoul in 1986, when the Indonesian team was also cheated by the host in the semifinals. Learning from the incident, the Indonesian delegation should have prepared themselves for all contingencies. "Why not approach the Korean Badminton Association?" asked the former Vice President of the International Badminton Federation. Because, according to the owner of the Tangkas Jakarta Badminton Club, the entire team is involved in the struggle for gold, the players are there to execute what the team has prepared.
Another possible reason: South Korea had prepared their strategy far in advance. They changed the positions of the first and second doubles. In several of the last tournaments, they didn't include their strongest pair, Kim Dong-moon and Ha Tae-kwon, so that their rank in the world badminton federation fell somewhat. As a result, they were able to steal a point from Indonesia's weak pair, Halim Haryanto and Tri Kusharyanto. On the other hand, they let their weak pair, Lee Dong-soo and Yoo Yong-sun lose. "We shouldn't have been surprised when Indonesia's duet Candra [Wijaya] and Sigit [Budiarto] won easily," said Justian.
Tennis observer Benny Mailili believed Angelique Widjaja's and Wynne Prakusya's losses in the individual event were because the two players were simply too tired. In the past nine weeks, they have continuously participated in world tournaments. Two weeks before their departure, they should have taken a break. "We were lucky to grab the gold from the group competition," said Benny.
However, what Benny regrets the most is the unfair attitude of the Indonesian officials. When Oka Sulaksana won gold, not a single KONI official was there. "They only come to places where there's TV coverage, go ahead and check," said Benny.
Obviously, the Indonesian athletes shouldn't be blamed. As Justian said, they are just the polished product of a long process surrounding their development. It's this development or training process that seems to have been chaotic these past few years. So, however many gold medals are brought home from Busan, they will be the most expensive, from a contingent that was financed by the government and the people at the cost of Rp32.6 billion.
Agung Rulianto (Jakarta) and Sapto Yunus (Busan)