Indonesian sprinter wins gold and hearts in Finland
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Indonesian sprinter wins gold and hearts in Finland

JUST a few days ago, Lalu Muhammad Zohri was not a name that many Indonesians knew. Today he is perhaps the most popular athlete in the country.

The 18-year-old sprinter won the men’s 100 metre final at International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World U20 Championships in Tampere, Finland on Wednesday, edging out the United States’ Anthony Schwartz and Eric Harrison with a time of 10.18 seconds.

It is the first time a Southeast Asian athlete has won the 100-metre dash at the international junior championships. The win also represented a new personal best for Lalu and a record U20 time for Indonesia and Southeast Asia. His time was just .01 seconds off Indonesia’s national record.

A press release from the IAAF said that Lalu “proved once again that it’s always unwise to discount those further afield.”

“I will party tonight!” Lalu was quoted by the IAAF as saying.

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“I’m very happy with my PB 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.”

Hosted between the capital Jakarta and Palembang in South Sumatra, the Asian Games will kick off in his native Indonesia on Aug 18.

Lalu was personally congratulated by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who tweeted that the victory showed “Indonesia can provide surprises.”

According to the Indonesian news portal Detik, Jokowi has ordered the ministry of public works to help renovate the runner’s family home in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara – one of the poorer provinces in the country of 260 million.

“I think not only me, but all the people of Indonesia would be happy and proud,” the president was quoted as saying.

“Thank you to the Indonesian president and all the people of Indonesia for their support and prayers,” Lalu said.