Jakarta. Indonesian weightlifter Eko Yuli Irawan is one of the country's best gold medal prospects at this year's Asian Games.
The government expects the country to finish in the top-10 in the medal count at Asia's biggest sporting event, hosted by Jakarta and Palembang, South Sumatra, from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2.
To achieve this goal, the country's athletes must at least win 16 gold medals, according to Gatot S. Dewa Broto, secretary general of the Ministry of Youth and Sport.
"In weightlifting, we expect to win one gold," Gatot told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday (16/08).
Weightlifting is one of Indonesia's most successful sports, having contributed two of the three medals the nation won at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Eko has so far brought home medals from each of the last three Olympic Games, having won bronze in both the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics, before clinching silver in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
He also won a silver medal in the 62-kilogram class – his current weight division – at last year's Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia.
Now, along with compatriots Deni and I Ketut Ariana, he is favored to win at least one gold medal in the weightlifting competition, set to take place at Jakarta International Expo on Aug. 20-27.
The 29-year-old native of Metro, Lampung, became involved in the sport after his friends joined a modest weightlifting club near his home, established by Yon Haryono, who was an elite lifter during the 1980s.
"I didn't plan to be a weightlifter. It was only because there was a place to train weightlifting near my house and I tried it," Eko told BeritaSatu.com recently.
"I trained for eight months before winning my first gold medal in a national championship. After that, I aimed to win on the international stage," he said.
Before trying weightlifting, Eko worked as a goatherd to earn money for his impoverished family.
"My family was poor and I used sport, especially weightlifting, to find a solution. I actually love to play football and my favorite team is Real Madrid," he said referring to the Spanish football giant.
However, it was only in 2007 when Eko became convinced that weightlifting was his life path, after winning a gold medal at the Southeast Asian Games – his first major international achievement.
He has since won three more gold medals in three consecutive Southeast Asian Games, in 2009, 2011 and 2013.
The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) has ranked Eko as the world-number-two in the 62-kilogram class last year.
"I want to say to all young people in this country that it is better to try sport than doing useless activities, such as consuming narcotics, brawling or smoking cigarettes," he said.
Eko expected his biggest challenge at this year's event to come from China, which dominated the 2014 Asian Games by winning seven of the 15 gold medals.
But the country's weightlifters are serving a one-year ban, which ends in October, for doping during the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
However, the country is currently awaiting a decision by the IWF to be allowed to participate in this year's Asian Games, following an appeal.
"It doesn't matter whether China participates in this year's Asian Games or not. It won't influence the fact that I must still compete to win gold, because there are also other countries in the competition," Eko said on Monday, after hearing that China may still join the competition.
There are 15 gold medals at stake in weightlifting during this year's Asian Games.