Jakarta. Facing some of the world's best players in a fierce tournament, Jonatan "Jojo" Christie said he did not expect to win gold at the 2018 Asian Games.
But the 20-year-old Indonesian shuttler came through to secure the nation's first badminton gold in this year's event with a 21-18, 20-22 and 21-15 victory over Chou Tien Chen of Taiwan on Tuesday (28/08).
The home crowd erupted in cheers the second Jojo scored his final match point in the men's singles final at the iconic Istora Senayan indoor arena inside Jakarta's Gelora Bung Karno Sports Complex.
He removed his shirt in a celebratory gesture, to the delight of his supporters.
"Honestly, I didn't expect to win gold and I am convinced that this is a gift from God," Jojo said at a press conference after the match.
He dedicated the victory to his family, whom he said have shown relentless support in his sports career, and to his supporters, coach and team, as well as the Indonesian people.
"At the beginning of the match, I noticed Chou might have been a little nervous and tired, which I suppose became an advantage for me," Jojo said, adding that his opponent, who is the world No. 6, had played well but was a little less aggressive than anticipated.
Playing in front of his home crowd may have given Jojo an edge in the tournament. He affectionately described the Indonesian supporters, who packed the 5,000-seat sports hall to capacity on Tuesday, as amazingly spirited and loud.
"Indonesian supporters are amazing – their cheers are boisterous. And I am grateful [for their support]; it does not make me nervous at all. Instead, they greatly motivate me to perform better," Jojo said.
He added that an international multisport event such as the Asian Games helps to promote badminton to a wider audience.
"Maybe those who barely watched badminton in the past are now developing an interest because of the Asian Games, and they can now better understand the sport," he said.
Several officials and high-profile figures attended the match, including Chief Security Minister Wiranto, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri and Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan.
Immediately after securing the win, the star athlete hugged his mother, whom he said advised him not to be too easily satisfied and to always be grateful.
Jojo's performance in his Asian Games debut has been nothing short of impressive, seeing how it began with a shock win over world No. 2 Shi Yuqi of China in the opening round of the men's singles competition.
He followed this up with victories over Khosit Phetpradab of Thailand and Vincent Wong Wing Ki of Hong Kong in the quarterfinals before defeating Kenta Nishimoto of Japan in the semifinals.
Nishimoto is the world No. 10, while Jojo is ranked 15th by the Badminton World Federation.
Indonesia last won gold in a men's singles event at the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar, courtesy of now-retired Olympic and world singles champion Taufik Hidayat.
Badminton is Indonesia's most successful sport of all times, now having contributed 28 of the nation's Asian Games gold medals since 1962.
Giving His Best
Jojo said he felt like he was at the bottom, especially compared with other shuttlers, when he kicked off his 2018 Asian Games campaign.
More than 200 athletes from 20 countries competed in badminton at this year's event.
"But I gave it my best, and I think that's what this victory means for me – I'm happy because I've proven that I could do it," said Jojo, who hails from Jakarta and started playing badminton in 2005 as part of his school's extracurricular activities, after encouragement from his father.
He won a gold medal in the men's singles and team events at the 2017 Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur. He also bagged gold as a member of the Indonesian men's team at the 2018 Badminton Asia Team Championships in February this year.
Next month, Jojo will be competing in three international badminton tournaments, which will take place in Japan, China and South Korea.
"The moment I step from the podium, I have to start again from the beginning. We have to get ready for our next competition," he said.
As a gold medalist, Jojo will receive a Rp 1.5 billion ($102,600) bonus, as promised by Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi, as an incentive to encourage more athletes to win medals at this year's Asian Games.
Jojo said he did not think about the bonus during the tournament and only focused on playing his best.
He plans to save some of the money, while giving the rest to those who have supported him so far in his career, and also to those in need, including victims of the Lombok earthquake.
"I want to share the gift that God has given me," he said.