Pacific weightlifters aiming for multiple medals on Gold Coast

Weightlifters from the Pacific Islands are aiming to make their mark on the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games by scoring big on the medal table and pioneering rule changes.

Papua New Guinea‘s Morea Baru competes during the Men‘s 62kg weightlifting competition at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Photo: AFP

All lifters, including the Pacific Islands contingent, have had to qualify to compete on the Gold Coast, rather than simply being selected by their individual countries, as was the case in the past.

“The organisers are using weightlifting as a pilot scheme and I hope it works, and after these Games we‘ll see what happens with the rest of the sports,” Paul Coffa, secretary-general of the Oceania Weightlifting Federation, said.

After mentoring most of the Pacific lifters at the Oceania Weightlifting Institute in New Caledonia, Coffa said he expected a number of gold medals, with Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Samoa all fielding particularly strong teams.

“We‘re looking at six to seven gold medals, which would be a great result for the Pacific,” Coffa said.

Among the gold medal contenders are Steven Kari and Dika Toua from Papua New Guinea, who will be defending the titles they won in Glasgow four years ago, while Jenly Wini is aiming to become Solomon Islands‘ first ever Commonwealth Games medallist, when she competes in the women‘s 52 kilogram category on Friday.

PNG‘s Morea Baru is also a favourite for gold, but the star of the show could well turn out to be Fiji‘s Eileen Cikamatana.

Just 19 years old, she is out not only to win gold, but also to break the world junior record in the women‘s 90 kilogram category on the final day of competition on Monday.

“We may be good in rugby in the Pacific, but weightlifting is the next sport in line,” Coffa said.

It also seems certain that the Commonwealth Games will see Coffa reach a personal landmark.

After more than 40 years working with athletes in Australia, and now in the Pacific, he needs just four more medals to pass the 100 mark as a coach.

Several of the lifters competing on the Gold Coast will go into the Games at number one on the Commonwealth rankings, and Coffa said the increased success of the Pacific Islanders came down to the unique culture at the New Caledonia institute.

“They stay together, they travel together, they eat together, they train together, it‘s just like brothers and sisters, it‘s a real family affair,” he said.