JAKARTA: Indonesians have heaped praise on a sprinter from Lombok after he brought home Indonesia’s first-ever medal from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) world under-20 championships.
But just a year ago, the 18-year-old could not even afford a pair of running shoes.
Lalu Muhammad Zohri made history on Wednesday (Jul 11) when he blazed across the finish line from lane eight in just 10.18 seconds, ahead of the United States’ Anthony Schwartz and Eric Harrison who both finished in 10.22 seconds.
Before his surprise win, the best performance by an Indonesian athlete at the meet was an eighth-place finish in the 100m heats in 1986, IAAF said.
“I'm very happy with my PB (personal best) and national junior record. Now, I will prepare for the Asian Games next month. I'm so proud – this was an amazing experience and this is great for my career,” he said after the win, according to the federation's website.
Along with his surprise gold medal victory, Zohri’s humble background attracted global media attention.
According to reports by Kompas news agency, he regularly trained barefoot as he could not afford a pair of shoes.
"He always used to like running around our village barefoot. He never wore shoes because he didn't have any," said his sister, Baiq Fazilah.
Zohri's parents, Saeriah and Lalu Ahmad Yani, passed away in recent years, Indonesian reports said.
His sister recalled how Zohri had to scrape together US$28 to purchase a pair of shoes before he could travel to Jakarta for further training.
“He asked me for [money] to buy new shoes before going to Jakarta to continue competing abroad. I could only give him what I had.
"He has always been a quiet person and has never demanded anything … He aspires to make his family proud and build a house,” his sister told Kompas.
Footage posted online by CNN Indonesia showed Zohri's siblings and neighbours crowded around a smartphone as they watched him achieve his first international victory.
They told CNN they never expected that Zohri, who was from a humble background, could one day become an international athlete.
As they exclaimed in joy, one woman could be seen covering her face and wiping away tears with her headscarf.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has hailed Zohri’s landmark achievement, describing his victory as proof that “Indonesia can give surprises”.
According to local media reports, President Widodo has also ordered that Zohri's house be renovated.
Photos of Zohri’s humble wooden home went viral on social media following his IAAF win in Tampere, Finland.
Indonesian Minister for Youth and Sports Affairs Imam Nahrawi has also promised financial aid for Zohri, reports Kompas.
Zohri is set to compete next month at the Asian Games hosted by Indonesia.