Fiji Sports

The hard road to Beijing

Written By : rosemary bowry. When asked who she considered as her most formidable foe on the track, local sprint queen and Olympian Makelesi Bulikiobo whispered the name of Jamaican
12 Jun 2008 12:00

image Written By : rosemary bowry. When asked who she considered as her most formidable foe on the track, local sprint queen and Olympian Makelesi Bulikiobo whispered the name of Jamaican and US naturalised athlete Sanya Richards.
She was the gold medalist in the 4X400m relay at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
Bulikiobo thinks Richards is a potential gold medalist this year in the Beijing Olympics in the endurance sprint event 4X400m – her speciality in which she is a mere 2 seconds behind her adversary at her personal best.
“Right now Richard’s a world leader and running at 49 seconds and my best is 51. Cathy Freeman’s personal best is more just over 48 seconds but she ran 49 in the Olympics,” she said.
The difference in seconds makes one realise how much potential lies in Bulikiobo and that she can be on par if not beat her fiercest international opponents. The personal sacrifices that has taken her to train and live in a foreign country away from loved ones, the amount of work and energy poured into speeding up just seconds faster are all it takes to make her one of the country’s best medal contender. And she needs the nation’s support behind her.
Leaving behind a young child and husband, Bulikiobo is training in Brisbane with her running partner and fellow athlete and specialist 800m runner, Isireli Naikelekelevesi who has been given the ominous task to help her get there and reach her full potential. As a man and with more stamina and speed, there is no better person on whom Makelesi can rely as a benchmark to assess how fast she’s running.
At my wonderment that Makelesi was just 2 seconds behind the world’s best, he quipped in during the interview, “anyone who has qualified for the Olympics is good and everyone’s a potential winner,” and nobody can question the duo’s mutual respect for each other.
Having won the Australian Championship a few months ago, Makelesi now feels she is nearly reaching her peak to perform her best in China.
“I am going through this exercise regime that I find to be the toughest ever in my whole career as an athlete and is the final buildup to the Games in China. The good thing about being here for me has been the training facilities, quality of coaching and competition which sets a benchmark for me. I wouldn’t be getting the same if I was in Fiji so the sacrifices are worth it,” said the humble and shy Cakaudrove native.
When I met her in Brisbane during a recent visit there, I was struck by her size. She was all muscles and bones but then one realises that carrying that extra ounce of fat could be the one element to her losing a race. She looked emaciated and the hard regime of training was clearly etched on her face and her wiry frame. Their house is devoid of domestic comforts with only a cane lounge that sits three people, and a lone old mat on the bare floor – accommodation for the Olympian is far from the general perception she is cosseted and pampered in Australia. The flat is a three bedroom one shared between herself, Naikelekelevesi and young javelin thrower Leslie Copeland.
They cook their own food and take turns at doing the chores on a $100 a week each allowance that they have to divide and contribute for food and for keeping in touch with family back home.
There’s little else to spare on buying personal items and luxuries and they have learned to accept that all they are doing there in Australia is to train and train hard.
“This is all we can get right now and yes we miss home, but we have been fortunate we have been having some support coming from Fijian people like Trevor Savou who comes and conducts prayers sessions with us in the evenings and Atma Maharaj’s family.
“We know it’s not as comfortable as we would like it to be but we have little time to dwell on those things and instead use it to our advantage. I’d like to think that with living like this, we can concentrate more but yes, I watch Australian athletes and their support team and wonder what it would like for me, planned diet, transportation and gear for their sport. But I don’t have time to be feeling sorry for myself and have to concentrate on what I have before me,” she says with a smile.
It’s a humbling experience to speak to the athletes and learn that they are grateful and appreciate that part of their stay in Australia requires simple and disciplined living which offers them little else but to fine-tune their special areas of sport.
“It’s more a mental and spiritual experience with us and we are only able to live like this and go on because of our faith and constant prayers which keeps us together and hope for the best.”
“It’s really hard and has been a challenge being away from home and not really having the support that we need but we have turned it around as a strength and we’ve learned all throughout these years to discipline ourselves to change the negative to the positive so we don’t see living with such limited resources as a problem,” she shared with emotion in her voice.
Bulikiobo attributes her emotional strength to succeed in such trying conditions to a higher power and her voice begins to break when she emotes preparing with the most limited of resources.
“We feel after doing a very hard session of training that we can’t go on and there’s no more energy left in us but somehow, there seems to be a higher power giving us that extra strength to carry on. So what takes us to that next level is the spiritual faith and belief. It’s God and my faith in God.”
The athletes speak about their experience training with other Oceania member countries in Brisbane also on their way to the Olympics and how casual their approach to training is compared to them.
“They get more money and support but yet they don’t work hard at training and we observe them and have faith that God will provide for us because we work hard. We train so hard sometimes when we come back home, we’re so bone tired whoever cooks burns the meal because we’re in our own rooms resting and just wanting to sleep.”
Naikelekelevesi is critical about the way the sport of athletics is run locally and says it needs better administration if athletes were to succeed at the international level.
“Here in Australia, once you get chosen for the Olympics you get a finance injection from your sports body and then Government and so forth. Just to get into the team you’re looking at being given $10,000 for your personal expenses but then you have your personal sponsors who look after your gear and sportswear and allowances for travelling so yes, it’s no wonder they do well and perform well because the support is there.
“In Fiji I don’t understand why there’s no support for athletics when it’s an individual effort and requires more discipline. It needs to change,” he said.
The duo’s currently in the country on a two-week relaxed training programme before departing for Brussels in Europe to compete in the Belgium Championship which is the last world championship before final preparations in Australia for the Chinese Olympics in August.



Five square Da Bang Sale


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