SEA Games Gold Medalist Now Pulls a Rickshaw for a Living

Suharto, the 1979 SEA Games gold medalist whose profession now is pulling rickshaw

Suharto, the 1979 SEA Games gold medalist whose profession now is pulling rickshaw

From Kompas:

Tragic! Former Gold Medalist Now Pulling Rickshaw for a Living

Worshipped as a triumphant athlete and abandoned as a decrepit. Perhaps it is a glimpse of the lives of some former athletes who once won outstanding achievements for this nation.

This sad and heartbreaking story has also befallen one of the national cyclists from Surabaya, East Java named Suharto, who now works pulling a rickshaw.

Many would find it hard to fathom that during the 1979 SEA Games in Malaysia, the former racer who is now 59 years old competed and won a gold medal for Indonesia in the 100 kilometer “Team Time Trial” event. With his then-teammates, Sutiono, Munawar Saleh, and Dasrizal, the Indonesian cycling team beat the competition from both Malaysia and Thailand to win gold.

Two years prior to that, at the 1977 SEA Games held in Thailand, Suharto contributed two silver medals to the “Red White” [referring to the colors of the Indonesian flag] team’s medal tally in the team and individual event.

“At that time, the Indonesian cycling team was strong enough that we managed to win the gold medal,” said Suharto during an interview with Antara news at his boarding house on Jalan Kebon Dalem VIII, Surabaya on Tuesday August 8, 2011.

He further communicated that the strength of the Indonesian cycling team during the 70’s and 80’s was well-respected within the Southeast Asian community.

The memories of becoming a champion in the SEA Games have never eluded Suharto. In a 6 square meter (65 square foot) room inside his boarding house, Suharto keeps the medals and plaques he obtained from various national and international racing competitions neatly organized.

This father of three also collected news clippings from numerous print media which tell the tale of the Indonesian cycling team’s achievements. There was also a picture of him with the former Indonesian president, Suharto.

“I save all of these news clippings for times when I want to reminisce the days gone by,” said the man born in Surabaya on February 18, 1952.

Suharto revealed that when they won the medals at the SEA Games, he and his fellow teammates never collected any monetary rewards from the government, unlike what national athletes receive nowadays.

“We only received some sort of achievement plaques handed by the East Java governor at the Negara Grahadi building [East Java’s gubernatorial residence] in Surabaya. At that time we were only invited to a dining event but never given any money,” he added.

Suharto’s introduction to the sport was in no way accidental. During the early 70’s, Suharto started training using a his dad’s old bicycle that had been modified into a racing bike.

Despite not receiving his father’s blessings, Suharto still joined the local cycling race to compete for the Surabaya Mayor Cup and emerged as the champion. After that, Suharto, who is around the same age as former national cyclists Sutarwi and Sapari (both from East Java), joined the cycling club Porseni Korpri Surabaya and entered several national races.

“I was called on to join the national team after defeating the national cyclists in a championship in West Java in 1975 . Then, I found myself in the team to compete for the 1977 SEA Games,” he added.

Along with a number of national racers, Suharto got the opportunity from the Indonesian Cycling Federation Committee to partake in training session being held in Switzerland for several months. Two years after winning his two silvers in 1977, Suharto finally produced a gold medal for Indonesia.

“I decided to retire from racing in 1981 due to economic hardship. Moreover, the government at that time did not give us any guarantee of employment,” he said.

Working Odd Jobs

After calling it quits, Suharto’s fate became uncertain. To make ends meet, he was forced to work odd jobs. Prior to his current profession as a rickshaw driver, he worked as a public transportation co-driver and helped his neighbor sell chickens or used air conditioners.

Suharto lives a very simple life with his wife; they often move from one place to another. He had been living in a boarding house in the Sukodono area in Surabaya before renting a room in the Kebon Dalem VII complex where he has since lived for 15 years.

These days, he rides his rickshaw near the religious tourist area around Sunan Ampel cemetery not far from his home.

“The money from pulling the rickshaw only enough cover the family’s food expenses. We save whatever’s left towards paying our rent,” he uttered.

However, he’s been forced to take a three-month break from his rickshaw routine to recuperate from a hernia he suffered two years ago. Due to the unbearable pain he suffered, Suharto gathered up his courage to come to East Java KONI’s office in May 2011 asking for help.

The daily operational head of East Java KONI, Dhimam Abror Djuraid, was very surprised and saddened to learn about the living conditions of the former national racer. Especially when Suharto first walked into the office, he had a used a tubeless tire tied around his stomach to ease the pain from his hernia.

Typical rickshaw, known as 'becak' in Indonesia, that fits 2 passengers

Typical rickshaw, known as ‘becak‘ in Indonesia, that fits 2 passengers

“Mr. Abror helped me to surgically remove the hernia. The pain still comes and goes now and I am not allowed to do any heavy task for time being,” he said.

Abror said that he will try to help Suharto gain the compensation he deserved from the government for his international achievements.

“Mr. Harto here deserves to get some reward from the government. He was a champion in the SEA Games yet his current living conditions are disheartening,” he said.

The central government through the Minstry of Youth and Sports (Kemenpora) has a program to grant homes to national athletes that have served Indonesia in international events.

“I don’t read the newspaper so I don’t know about any free-homes program from the government to former national athletes,” added Suharto.

Although it has been 30 years since he retired from competitive cycling, Suharto still longs to return to the sport that gave rise to his name.

“If I have the chance and the capital, I would like to be a coach. I may be shabby-looking, but I have had prior training overseas,” Suharto concluded.

Comments from Kompas:

keringetan terus:

Athletes…before your juices are sucked dry…before you’re spat out…use your brain.

Elias Abul:

People fight for their country but the country hasn’t provided a fitting end, especially to our sports heroes. Where are you, my dear country, when your people need you????

kiki muntako:

A great country is one that is grateful towards its heroes. It seems that this country does not believe that proverb. All these former heroes that have made Indonesia proud now live in misery; a far cry from all the corrupted that have shattered this country in destruction and poverty.

Panuel Adinawar Nadapdap:

Still relevant. Racing with a bicycle is the same as with a rickshaw. But Mr. minister, please take care of his well being too!

Agung Pushandaka:

This is heartbreaking. Hopefully his racing skills are being applied when pulling his rickshaw.

Johar Ridwan:

So sad…I cry when reading stuff like this. But in Indonesia, there really are plenty of heroes in numerous fields who are suffering in their old age because the government simply does not appreciate the achievements of its heroes.

dede doang:

This is because the government is too busy taking care of their own political parties instead of taking care of their people. They only care for their own stomach [needs] and their families’ stomachs [needs], live in luxury and do not care about the well-being of their people. Ugh…

Jimmy Paradista:

How are we supposed to improve the sports and athletics in this country when the money for sports complex development is being embezzled/lost in corruption? The leaders of this nation should be more aware these things. We used to have good achievements in the past but now our performance has plummeted.

predator machine:

Where is the country’s recognition??? Without recognition, be prepared for the downfall of this nation!!!

yosep cahyadi:

The government [referring to congressmen and/or ministers] are always sleeping. They even sleep during meetings when the leader speaks…irresponsible.

Imam Mahdi:

This is what happens when even the ministers are busy amassing wealth for personal interests. Even the budget for the athletes’ welfare and domestic sports development have been corrupted.

Afandi Sido:

So, Mr. [President] SBY, don’t get mad if people say that this country is a failure…!

Do you know other examples of athletes who used to have outstanding achievements but are now living in poverty?

See also: Former Chinese Gymnastics Champion Now Homeless Beggar »

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