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Asian Games: Young Indonesian star runs for quake-hit homeland, family

Lalu Muhammad Zohri, who reached the final of the men's 100 meters in the Asian Games, is seen in this photo taken in Jakarta, on Aug. 28, 2018. (Mainichi)

JAKARTA -- An 18-year-old Indonesian sprinter that finished seventh in the Aug. 26 final of the men's 100 meters at the Asian Games hopes that his efforts would help ease "the painful situation and sorrow" in his quake-hit homeland.

Lalu Muhammad Zohri ran a personal best of 10.20 seconds at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium here in central Jakarta. He comes from Lombok, an island in West Nusa Tenggara, where more than 550 residents were killed by a series of earthquakes that struck from the end of July this year.

Lombok was hit by four earthquakes exceeding magnitude 6 from July 29 to Aug. 19. At least 555 residents were killed and more than 400,000 people were forced to evacuate. His family members and relatives survived although North Lombok Regency including West Pemenang village, where he was born and raised, suffered severe damage. "I know my family is safe, but I need to see them soon," Zohri said. Local government bodies are busy with debris removal, but reconstruction seems a long way off.

Zohri's teacher in junior high school noticed his talent and got him to start serious running. On June 8 this year, Zohri won the gold medal in the men's 100 meters at the 2018 Asian Junior Athletics Championships in Gifu Prefecture with a time of 10.27. He also won gold in the men's 100 meters at the 2018 IAAF World U20 Championships at Tampere Stadium, Finland, on July 11. Zohri's impressive accomplishments made him a star in his home country, as it was the first time Indonesia won a gold medal in the U20 championships.

Zohri lost both of his parents a few years ago, and was looked after by his three older siblings. He lived an impoverished life in a house made of bamboo, and slept on a bed also made of bamboo and old newspapers. His older sister stated in an interview with the local media, "He asked for 400,000 rupiah (about 3,200 yen) to buy a new pair of shoes about a year before winning the gold medal in Finland, but I didn't have any money to lend him."

Meanwhile, Ryota Yamagata, 26, who won the bronze medal in the final of the men's 100 meters at the Asian Games, also had his homeland of Hiroshima and other flood-struck areas in western Japan on his mind when he ran in Indonesia. Yamagata did his best in the event "to send a positive message."

Both Zohri and Yamagata are competing in the men's 400 meter relay on Aug. 29. Zohri pledged to "run hard for my family who are praying I do well."

(Japanese original by Aya Takeuchi, Jakarta Bureau)

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