Jakarta (ANTARA) - At a sports arena in Gorontalo city, Izrak Udjulu, 19, treaded quickly before starting on the running track.

He had matched a red T-shirt with "INDONESIAN" written across the back with black pants and dark blue shoes.

The incessant drizzle in the past three hours had not led him to pause training. In fact, Udjulu did not even notice when the drizzle turned into heavy rain that afternoon.

Zailani Ahmad, Udjulu's coach, was monitoring his training along with assistant coach Abdurahman Mahmud.

Udjulu maintained his focus though a number of people were training on the same track. His running speed, his motion, and coordination were enough to show that he is no ordinary runner.

In the last two months, he has been in quarantine. An alumni of State High School I in Gorontalo city, he has the time to focus on training for the 20th PON National Games in Papua.

Udjulu will represent Gorontalo in the 100 meters and 200 meters race. Meanwhile, his partner, Muhammad Hadrin Mahdang will compete in the 1,500 meters race.

Gorontalo province has entered 16 athletes for this year's PON in nine sports branches—athletics, sepak takraw, billiards, swimming, karate, boxing, taekwondo, motorsports, and muay thai.

Udjulu and the other athletes have infused new spirit to the hopes of the people of Gorontalo for wins at the national level.

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Love for athletics
Many athletes jumped into the world of sports because they were motivated by their parents, who were maybe also athletes. Udjulu is different.

The son of Jeni Udjulu and Asna Kanabu fell in love with sports in elementary school. His father, who worked as a day laborer, and his mother, who took care of the household, pushed him to choose the sporting world.

In fact, Udjulu revealed that his parents did not accompany him during training or when he competed in a match. They chose to watch his matches on television instead.

"They could not bear to see me training so hard. They are scared to see me getting injured," he said and laughed.

Nevertheless, he wants to dedicate all his efforts and achievements to both his parents. "It is mom and dad who keep me motivated to win every championship," he remarked.

Racing was, however, not his first choice. The first sport he was keen on was tennis. He said he has been a tennis athlete since the 5th grade.

One day, he was asked by his teacher to participate in the athletics competitions at the National Student Sports Olympiad (O2SN) in Kalimantan.

That O2SN became his debut. He won a silver medal and brought Gorontalo to the national stage. Since then, he has continued to train in athletics and gained achievements almost every year.

He won the second place in the 2017 PPLP National Championship (Kejurnas) in Papua, the third place in the National Student Games (Popnas) at Central Java the same year, the first place in Jakarta's Popnas in 2019, and the second place in the GBK DKI National Championship the same year.

He also has several wins at the Asian region level: he took the second place in relay race at the 2017 Asian School Singapore, the second place in relay race at the Malaysia School 2018, and was declared the first champion at the 2019 Semarang's Asian School Games.

Udjulu also made Indonesia proud by bringing home a gold medal from the 2018 SEA Youth Athletics Championship in Bangkok, Thailand.

In the men's 100 meters at the 2018 championship, he rushed to the top by eliminating seven runners from Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand.

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Child prodigy
Because of his astonishing achievements, Udjulu was once deemed a child prodigy by the General Management of the Indonesia Athletics Association (PB PASI).

His coach, Zailani Ahmad, confirmed that he is no ordinary athlete because his talent has been thriving rapidly.

"He is a strong-willed teenager. He takes his training seriously and wants to continue learning," Ahmad said when ANTARA met him after the afternoon training.

According to him, training can be a great stepping stone for Udjulu to become a national athlete. After the last training for PON Papua had come to an end, coach Ahmad claimed to have had no difficulty directing Udjulu to learn certain techniques.

"Overall he is very ready for PON. We have trained him to improve and maintain his running speed," he said.

Meanwhile, Gorontalo province sent Ahmad and his team to Papua on September 28, 2021. The team arrived in Timika on September 30, 2021.

Gorontalo's PASI chairman, Weni Liputo, said that the short-distance running race (sprint) is scheduled to start on October 6 and the middle-distance running on October 11, 2021 at the PON.

"For the sprint category, the athletes are quite a lot because this discipline is a favorite in athletics. However, we are very optimistic that Udjulu can win the early rounds," Liputo added.

The most important thing is to nurture Udjulu's motivation considering that race length might have an impact, he said.

The two Gorontalo athletes who will race at PON Papua are ready to run, he added.

"We are not demanding Udjulu to win a gold medal. But judging by the amount of training we gave to him and his technical developments, (we believe that) he is very competitive to win the gold medal," he remarked.

He expressed the same optimism regarding Muhammad Hadrin Mahdang, who will race in the middle-distance running category.

Although he has not been burdened by others to win, Udjulu affirmed that he really wants to bring home a gold medal for Gorontalo.

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Translator: Kenzu Tandiah
Editor: Yuni Arisandy Sinaga
Copyright © ANTARA 2021