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Pacific Games/Oceania Championships: ‘Special moment’ for tearful champion Cikamatana after Paris 2024 boost

Eileen Cikamatana was in tears after winning at the Pacific Games in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands. The Australian was highly emotional not because she improved her best qualifying total in the Paris 2024 rankings, but because so many members of her family were there to see her do it.

The 24-year-old Australian made a career-best snatch and total in winning at 81kg on 115-145-260, and would have done even better but for failing with a final attempt at an Oceania record on 151kg.

Eileen Cikamatana (AUS)

She was more than happy because the Pacific Games doubled up as this year’s Oceania Championships, making it an Olympic qualifier. Cikamatana is fifth in the rankings and has a chance to improve again at the IWF Grand Prix in Doha, Qatar which starts next week (December 4-14). Her entry total there is 260kg.

“This is a special moment I’ll hold forever,” Cikamatana told the Australian Olympic Committee’s media service. “Finishing on the podium at Pacific Games is out of this world.”

Her parents, sister, uncles, aunts and cousins were there along with her grandmother Roselyn, who was born in the Solomon Islands and moved to Fiji, where Cikamatana lived most of her life. Roselyn had never seen her granddaughter lift live before.

“Ever since I started winning medals, I always dreamed of being able to go to loved ones in the crowd,” Cikamatana said. “I feel so special to pass over my medals to my grandmother, here in the place she’s from.

“We were both in tears, it left us speechless. The people in the crowd are the most special people in the world to me.”

It was a good effort by Cikamatana given that temperatures reached 42C and humidity 98per cent throughout the competition. She was the only one of those from Oceania with a realistic chance of direct qualification for Paris to improve her best total.

The other four all won in Honiara and three of them, like Cikamatana, are entered in Qatar. Mattie Sasser from the Marshall Islands, whose entry total in Qatar is 220kg, made 95-115-210 at 59kg, declining her final attempt. The Samoan super-heavyweight Iuniarra Sipaia missed three times in making 252kg, well below her 275kg entry mark for the Grand Prix.

Among the men, Don Opeloge from Samoa also had three no-lifts in winning at 102kg on 165-214-379, which is 11kg below his entry total in Qatar. The New Zealand super-heavyweight David Liti totalled 405kg to hold off the challenge of Sanele Mao from Samoa, claiming his first Pacific Games title at the third attempt. Liti is skipping Doha.

Any athletes who decide not to lift in Qatar have until two days before the start to declare for the “weigh in only” option, which still counts as a participation in qualifying.

Other Paris hopefuls from Oceania are more likely to rely on gaining a continental place, of which there are 10 worldwide. The rules for these are: “The highest-ranked eligible athlete of a weight category representing an NOC whose continent is not in the top 10 of her/his weight category, will be allocated a quota place.

“In cases where more than one continent is not represented in the top 10 of a weight category, then the highest-ranked eligible athlete of this weight category representing an NOC from these continents will be allocated a quota place.

“If in any Olympic weight category the continental representation is already achieved, then the continental quota place will be reallocated.”

Dika Toua (PNG)

Dika Toua and Morea Baru from Papua New Guinea, and Jenly Wini from Solomon Islands are among those best placed to qualify via this route. Toua, aiming for a record-breaking sixth Olympic Games appearance, won at 49kg on 76-90-166, which was a 1kg improvement in the ranking lists.

Toua will be 40 when the lifting starts in Paris next August and Wini will be 41. Wini won at 55kg in her homeland on 82-108-190, which will put her in the top 35 at 59kg for Paris. She is entered at 55kg again in Qatar.

An interesting Australian head-to-head is developing in the women’s 71kg after Jacqueline Nichele’s victory on 93-119-212. That is 1kg more than Sarah Cochrane’s best Paris qualifying effort. Cochrane, who did not compete in Honiara, has the higher entry total in Qatar.

In the men’s 61kg, Ramohaka Chester was a surprise winner for Solomon Islands on 102-127-228 after Morea Baru set a Pacific Games snatch record of 120kg. Baru, from Papua New Guinea, had the first bombout of his 14-year career when he missed three times at 155kg in clean and jerk.

“I’m disappointed with my performance but I’m sure this will boost me to move better and never give up. I’ll go to Qatar and do my best for a good total to qualify for the Olympics,” he told local media.

The Fijian Taniela Rainibogi came off the front of the platform in missing both his last two attempts but still won at 109kg, making a career best 165-192-357.

The 2024 Oceania Championships, also a Paris qualifier, are less than three months away. They run from February 23-25 in Auckland, New Zealand. The final Olympic qualifier, a mandatory event, is the IWF World Cup in Pattaya, Thailand from March 31 to April 11.

By Brian Oliver

Photos by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia