Lifters’ Best Year: Maharaj

Weightlifting Fiji  (WF) has had one of its most successful year in its 55-year history since it started in 1961. WF president Atma Maharaj revealed some of the best moments
25 Dec 2016 13:15
Lifters’ Best Year: Maharaj
Eileen Cikamatana. Photo: Justine Mannan

Weightlifting Fiji  (WF) has had one of its most successful year in its 55-year history since it started in 1961.

WF president Atma Maharaj revealed some of the best moments in 2016 where it ranged from upcoming star Eileen Cikamatana winning a gold medal at the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) Youth World Championship to hosting the Oceania Weightlifting Championship in May.

“Fiji winning the first ever gold medal at any World Championship was the crowning moment,” Maharaj said.

“This we believe is the first ever World Championship gold medal ever by any female athlete across any sport in Fiji.

“Fiji won a gold medal at the IWF Youth World Championship in Malaysia in October where Cikamatana beat competitors from top tier nations such as Russia, China and Korea to win the gold medal in the Clean & Jerk event.

“She finished third overall in the 69kg category and took the bronze medal. She is the first athlete from the entire Oceania region, which includes Australia and New Zealand to ever win a gold medal at any IWF World Weightlifting Championship.

“This was backed by our athletes’ exceptional performances at the Commonwealth Championships, in Malaysia, where we won a gold medal, two silver medals and four bronze medals.

“Apolonia Vaivai won the gold medal in the 75kg and became the only Fijian lifter to win gold medals at two consecutive Commonwealth Championship.

“Fiji successfully hosted the Oceania Weightlifting Championship in May, with the support of the Government, Fiji National Sports Commission, FASANOC, Oceania National Olympic Committees, Fijian National Sports Council and a large cadre of willing sponsors, media and volunteers.”

The success of the Oceania Weightlifting Championship granted Fiji the right to bid to host future IWF Youth or Junior World Championship Maharaj said.

“The organisation of the championship received raving accolades from local and international stakeholders, teams, media, IWF officials and athletes,” he said.

“The president of the International Weightlifting Federation, Dr Tamas Ajan, who was making his first ever visit to Fiji and eight members of his IWF executives, was very impressed with our organisation and invited Fiji bid to host a future IWF events.

“Discussions have already started with IWF and OWF about the bid process, which will hopefully see Fiji bid for the 2019 IWF World Junior Championships.

“This is specially targeted, as Cikamatana will be able to compete at the world level on her home turf if the hosting right was to be successful.

“The championships, which was also the qualifying tournament for the Olympic Games, saw Fiji once again qualify two athletes on merit for the Olympic Games; this is the only sport in Fiji to have qualified two athletes on merit to two consecutive Olympic Games.

“Our two athletes to Rio Olympics, Apolonia Vaivai and Manueli Tulo did Fiji proud by finishing commendably in 11th and 13th place respectively.”

However, prior to their success, tragedy hit the Weightlifting Fiji when Tropical Cyclone Winston, the strongest to hit the Southern Hemisphere, destroyed their high performance centre in Levuka and the homes of many weightlifters.

“Our High-Performance Centre and the homes of many weightlifting families living in Baba, Levuka, Ovalau, did not escape the ferocity of the winds; our HPC was destroyed on February 20.

“The level of devastation throughout Fiji and in particular to the homes and lives of most of our lifters and their families almost resulted in the cancellation of Fiji’s hosting of the Oceania Weightlifting Championships.”

But Maharaj said they did not let that dampen their spirits as they used the destruction Winston left as a stepping stone to motivate themselves.

“The spirit of athletes and the officials from Levuka was an inspiration for us all,” he said.

“This supported by the Government and other stakeholders ensured that we re-invigorated ourselves and with the continued faith and trust of Oceania Weightlifting proceed to what was an awesomely successful championships.

“The athletes continued to train in makeshift environment and went on to perform remarkably well at the Olympic Games, World Youth Championships and Commonwealth Championship.

“The devastating cyclone could not dampen the spirit of enthusiasm nor stop Fiji from performing at its best.

“Weightlifting has continued to make an impact in Ovalau and Levuka, especially the Baba community.

“Weightlifting has brought great benefits to Baba’s youth; a healthy, active lifestyle; respect for others; dedication and commitment of purpose; reduction in crime and deviant behaviour.

“This is probably the greatest outcome of the sport, making a difference to the lives of many ordinary citizens and youth.

“Weightlifting provides aspirational goals for many youths who want to emulate the many stars of the sport.”

Looking ahead to 2017

For Weightlifting Fiji, the success in 2016 will be the momentum they need to tackle yet another big year.

The New Year will include the rebuilding of their High Performance centre in Levuka which is their main priority.

With the focus being on their lifters and developing them, Maharaj said they have continued to set the pace and progress on the world stage despite the challenges they have faced.

“On January 9, our top junior athlete, Cikamatana, will return to the Oceania Weightlifting Institute to train under the watchful eyes of High Performance coach, Paul Coffa,” he said.

“With the support of the Fijian National Sports Commission, we expect to see up to four of our young lifters to get attachments at the Oceania Institute for periods of eight to 12 weeks at a time. This will hopefully, get these lifters to the next stage of their developmental career.

“Weightlifting Fiji continues to bring attention to Fiji at a world level and we hope to be in contention for Fiji’s first individual medal at the 2020 Olympic Games.

“We are patiently awaiting information from the IWF and IOC on the final results from the 2012 Olympic Games.

“With IWF pushing hard on Anti-Doping, several athletes from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics have been caught cheating and disqualified.

“We are looking at the prospect of Maria Liku being propelled from 8th to a likely 5th in the world in the 63kg category.

“This, once confirmed, will further improve the highest ranking of any individual Fiji athlete at any Olympic event.

“Weightlifting Fiji is very progressive and a result oriented National Federation. We continue to achieve great success on the competition platform, in Sports Development, High Performance, Governance and Finances.

“We thank our many stakeholders, athletes, parents and families for their outstanding support.”

Edited by Osea Bola


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