Anxious athletes from quake-hit Lombok hope to spread smiles back home
For athletes from quake-hit Lombok competing at their own country’s Asian Games, the pressure is far greater than the usual quest for gold.
Competitors from the picturesque island have anxiously followed news of deadly earthquakes that killed more than 500 people, hundreds of miles from Indonesia’s host cities Jakarta and Palembang — and hope their performances can bring a few smiles to faces back home.
“I was so worried about my family — it was a little hard to sleep,” said 18-year-old sprinter Lalu Muhammad Zohri, who hails from the worst-affected northern part of the island.
“They called me to tell me not to worry, to just focus on my race. I tried my best,” he added, after reaching the men’s 100m final, where he finished seventh.
“Now I can’t wait to go to Lombok to see my family.”
Bronze-winning beach volleyball duo Dhita Juliana and Putu Dini Jasita Utami, who are also from Lombok, have captured the hearts of the home fans cheering for them across the country and from the sidelines of Asia’s regional Olympics.
They can barely walk a few metres in Palembang without being asked for a selfie yet always oblige, hoping their smiles and strength will resonate back home.
“We hope all Lombok people are okay, and we are trying our best here to at least share some happiness with them when we win,” said Dhita Juliana, adding that they have been touched by the backing they have had from home throughout the competition.
“There has been a lot of support from Lombok — from relatives, friends, everyone there. We’re just so grateful.”
Some 555 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands left homeless on the beautiful island of Lombok, around 700 miles (1,100km) from Games host cities Jakarta and Palembang.
Juliana, 25, and Utami, 24, said their friends and family all managed to get to safety in time when the two main quakes hit on July 29 and August 5.
But everyone has been touched in some way on the island — and the aftershocks and tremors continue to terrorise an already fearful population.
The duo hope they can help raise awareness — and cash — for the survivors.
“We are going to spend some of the money we get as Asian Games athletes for the evacuees there,” Juliana said.
The pair’s mid-table pool group finish was enough to launch them into the knockout stages. Their run was ended by a Chinese duo — including defending Asian Games champion Xia Xinyi — in the semi-finals, but they took third place in Monday’s bronze medal match.
They are heading straight back home to see their loved ones and join in relief efforts however they can.
“We hope Lombok will recover so it can become a beautiful place again, a beautiful tourism destination,” Juliana said.