Olympics | SPORTS

Sotutu: Our Famous 1970s Olympian

  Usaia Sotutu, our famous Fijian track athlete in the Olympics of 1972, has been hailed as a role model. National records he set in the 1970s still stand. He
19 Jul 2016 13:21
Sotutu: Our Famous 1970s Olympian
Pacific Games Council President Vidhya Lakhan(Right) with Usaia Sotutu.

 

Usaia Sotutu, our famous Fijian track athlete in the Olympics of 1972, has been hailed as a role model. National records he set in the 1970s still stand.

He and Samuela Yavala represented Fiji in the 1972 Summer Munich Olympics where Black September terrorists stormed the athletes’ village, took hostage 11 Israeli athletes and later executed them. Sotutu took part in the 5000 metres heats and 3000 steeplechase heats. He went to the games after winning four golds in the 1971 South Pacific Games: the 5000 metres, 10,000 metres, 3000 metres, steeplechase and 4×400 metres relay.

Alifereti Cawanibuka, a former fellow athlete, yesterday described Sotutu as a dedicated athlete with a strong work ethic and pride for his country. He said Sotutu was a role model for our athletes

Sotutu lives in Kent, Seattle, Washington State, in the United States, where he still works for Boeing.

Cawanibuka, now a Sports Development Officer for the Fijian National University, said he remembered Sotutu as an athlete with incredible stamina.

“He would run, run and run with great cardiovascular strength,” he said.

In his younger days, Sotutu, as a student of the then Navuso Agricultural School, used to pound the gravel Qiolevu Rd barefoot in the outback of Sawani and Navuso alongside the meandering Waimanu River in Naitasiri. He and other students would reach Adi Cakobau School in Sawani and run back to Navuso. That was how the Tavea, Bua, native built his stamina despite his small build.

He was always running and did not seem to get tired doing it.

On Saturdays, he would come to Suva and blitz everyone in the 800 metres, 1500 metres and 3000 metres steeplechase. He even dominated the marathon.

The president of Pacific Games Council Vidhya Lakhan said Sotutu came from a mould of athletes from a different era who made sacrifices and took great pride in representing the country.

In his heyday Sotutu would humble France-trained New Caledonian athletes during races in Noumea and Suva.

The soft-spoken Sotutu was a great competitor on the tracks. He had a lot of respect for his rivals and would rather do the talking on the tracks. Sotutu and other athletes had the benefit of the experience and guidance of expatriates who worked here.

Sotutu was inducted into the Fijian Hall of Fame in 1992. The inscription beside his photo said Sotutu started competitive running when he turned 16. In his first appearance for Fiji in the 1966 New Caledonia South Pacific Games Usaia won gold.

In 13 years Sotutu appeared for Fiji in five South Pacific Games winning eight gold, four silver and two bronze medals. He competed in the 1971 World Games in Stockholm and 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

Sotutu set a number of Fijian records. Three of these set in 1971 still stand. These are: 3000 metres steeplechase (8min:48sec)  10,000 metres (31min:32sec) and 3000 metres (8min:13.60sec).

Athletics Fiji Data Base Administrator Eugene Volmer confirmed yesterday that the records still stood today. He said Sotutu belonged to a different class. He said Sotutu was in division one of the long distance runners. Volmer said Sotutu also still held the current Fijian indoor one mile record of 4min:16.10sec.

Sotutu’s performance in the 3000 metres steeplechase at the time was regarded as a world class. In Utah, USA, he is listed as one of the top six of his era.

Shortly after competing in the Olympics, he attended Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, USA, on a full scholarship for track and cross-country.

While attending BYU, he converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1973 he took a break from his college and track career to serve a two-year mission for the Church back in Fiji. He married in  1975,  while studying at BYU. After finishing his education in Provo, he, his wife and their eldest son moved back to Fiji. They lived here for three years. During that time he taught physical education.

Then they moved to Kent where he started work for Boeing.

While serving his church mission here in 1975, he was given a special dispensation to represent Fiji in the Guam South Pacific Games. After minimal preparation, he showed his class by easily winning the 1500 metres gold.

Edited by Osea Bola

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