The word family can mean more than just who you live with, more than blood. It is defined as any group of people united. Well Oceania are just that! United by more than just proximity, by beliefs, by culture and by sport. The Birmingham Commonwealth Games provided an opportunity to show the rest of the world just how united they are on a global scale.
“Sport is a great unifying factor, all of us coming together in these games in Birmingham I think is something that’s really special to us,” Michael Henao, Papua New Guinea.
“You have this family aspect. I think it’s very unique to our region. I think it’s due to the culture of the Pacific. It’s a very communal based society,” Brandon Schuster, Samoa swimmer. The advantages of having this wider family, created by the Oceania teams, can be seen in both training and in competition. “When you come to the pool, people will tape up zones. So, Australia, England etc will tape off massive zones but what we do is put tape out for Oceania Nations,” Brandon. Oceanian athletes’ enjoyment of the games is enhanced by this support and friendship between nations, this spirit is clearly valued.
Families support each other through the highs and lows of life. Like a family, athletes, and officials from the nations within Oceania rally together to support their neighbouring countries. “We are indeed a big family and it's wonderful to find all our, I want to call them my brothers and sisters from the Oceania islands. Indeed, since we are small countries, it's easier probably to create bonds,” Amel Zmirli, Vanuatu. Without this family network being so far from home, competing on such a large world stage would be a much more daunting experience for many athletes.
This family support can be seen in the audiences of all events with Oceanian athlete participation and as a family they are keen to share and celebrate each other's success. When Oceania athletes are competing, Oceania athletes and officials are watching from the stands. Even when competing themselves that support is evident: as they finished their match, Tuvalu men’s beach volleyball team found out that PNG had won Oceania’s first medal in the weightlifting, they said “we are so happy our brothers reached this level.”
Athletes are very keen to give thanks to families for their support back home, with many messages sent home to their supporters. Athletes are grateful for the kind words of praise they have received. “I’ve had lots of messages from back home. People are proud of me no matter the result, because they see the hard work that is behind it all.” Kirsten Fisher-Marsters, Cook Islands swimmer. The understanding and support of families back home means that the athletes can prioritise their training. With many athletes having to travel overseas, to other parts of Oceania and around the world, to train and compete in the months leading up to the games. This support whilst away from home is crucial to their success.
For other athletes this support comes even closer to home; competing alongside family members, following in the footsteps of brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers or grandparents, or being coached by members of their own family.
Nauru’s My-Only Stephen, age 15, is now following in the large footsteps of her grandfather Marcus Stephen. Marcus won an Olympic gold medal and was instrumental in influencing the country's approach to weightlifting in 1990. After wanting to get involved in weightlifting from a young age, My-Only has been sure to follow the advice given to her by her grandfather. When she competed, Marcus was in the crowd cheering her on alongside the rest of her team and other supporters from across Oceania.
This is not the only family connection in weightlifting, with the Opologe family from Samoa, leaving a large legacy behind them. Don Opeloge became the third of his siblings to win a gold medal in weightlifting during the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. Followed by his brother Jack who also won a silver medal at these games. This outstanding family Jack, Don, Niusila and Ele all are weightlifting champions at the Games. Weightlifting clearly runs in this family’s genes. With other siblings and cousins winning medals in the recent Pacific Mini Games, this is not the last we will see of the Opeloge’s on the world circuit. “I’m happy and proud to be from such a strong family of weightlifters.” Jack Opeloge.
It is hard running next to friends on the track but what about running next to your sister. Well, this is something that the David sisters are already used to. Chloe and Claudie David both run 100m and have done so together for years in events back in Vanuatu. As Claudie is only 15 years old she is unable to compete at The Commonwealth Games this year but with the encouragement and support of her sister and father, their coach, will surely see her on the Commonwealth circuit soon. As a Dad and coach to two developing sportswomen, David Merick, is obviously incredibly proud of his daughters but identifies that their success is “the outcome of hard work, hard training, commitment and determination.”
Another pair of sisters, Cheyenne and Rosemary Rova, who both represent their country, Fiji: “We train together. We know each other’s race plan and we just go out and have fun” Cheyenne. As well as making sure they each enjoy their race they also support each other through competitions, “she knows when to be my sister and when to be my teammate.”
Another inspiring sibling couple is David and Ruben Katoatau. Following David’s gold medal success in the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Reuben followed in his brother’s footsteps making his debut appearance at these games in the same sport, weightlifting.
With many children following in their siblings or parents/ grandparents’ footsteps it is uncommon that these roles are reversed. However, this is very much the case for Judoka athlete William Tia Tin after he took up Judo after his children were part of a local club, “I guess it’s really my kids that have been the inspiration to a lot of my Judo career. They have been doing the sport much longer than I have.”
Reflecting on the whole Oceania family, Gloria King, Vanuatu, explained: “We are more than dots in the South Pacific Ocean. It's not about just one person or one island on its own, it's about the whole Pacific Ocean standing together to support each other”.
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