JAKARTA (Reuters) - As Indonesia gears up to host the Asian Games this month the Southeast Asian nation hopes to capitalize on home advantage and a range of new disciplines to break into the top 10 in the medal table for the first time since 1990.
Indonesia will be among 45 countries sending around 10,000 athletes to compete in 40 sports and 67 disciplines, including new events like bridge, jetskiing, roller skating and the Indonesian martial art pencak silat.
Indonesia, with a population of nearly 260 million, is fielding 938 athletes across the whole sports programme with the goal of winning at least 16 gold medals with the help of the new disciplines the hosts have brought in.
Its previous record was the 21 it won the last time the Games were held in Jakarta in 1962, according to the Olympic Council of Asia’s official website.
“If Indonesia only relies on Olympic sports, then our chance of winning medals is not that big,” said Gatot S. Dewa Broto, the youth and sports ministry’s secretary.
Indonesia has a big opportunity to earn medals from the new events but the home team will not have it easy, Ekawahyu Kasih, Indonesia Bridge Association chairman, told Reuters.
“This is the first time bridge enters the Asian Games and all competing countries want to make history,” he said.
Indonesia’s 24 bridge “athletes”, which includes tycoon Michael Bambang Hartono, the co-founder of Indonesia’s Djarum Group, have undergone intensive training and competed in the United States and Europe for the past two months under the supervision of professional bridge player and writer Krzysztof Martens.
The team is aiming to win two of the six bridge gold medals available at the Games, but will see fierce compeition from the likes of China, India, and Japan.
Indonesia won only four gold medals at the last Asian Games in Incheon four years ago — in the women’s long jump, badminton’s men and women doubles, and the Chinese martial art of wushu.
One of its main hopes for gold will be men’s badminton duo Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon, currently the world’s top ranked pair and who won the All England Open in March.
Since the first Asiad was held in New Delhi in 1951, Indonesia has collected 411 medals, including 91 golds, 121 silvers and 199 bronzes, mostly from badminton.
“All athletes have prepared well, let’s pray they remain at their top performance to present an achievement that will make Indonesia proud,” Jusuf Kalla, vice president, was quoted as saying on the cabinet secretary’s website.
Additional reporting by Fanny Potkin and Jessica Damiana; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor/Peter Rutherford