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Oceania Championships: Record-breaking Samoan Opeloge and Australia’s Elliott make moves in Olympic rankings

Don Opeloge broke records and made a significant move in the Paris 2024 rankings when he won the 102kg title for Samoa at the Oceania Championships in Auckland, New Zealand. Opeloge’s 175-215-390 was the best ever effort by any Samoan weightlifter on Sinclair points.

Another upward move came from Kiana Elliott from Australia, who finished ahead of her rankings rival Mattie Sasser at 59kg. The news was not so good for Elliott’s team-mate Eileen Cikamatana, who bombed out at 81kg.

Opeloge would have gone into eighth place in the rankings if he had not dropped the bar before the down signal on his final attempt at 220kg. He also missed his final snatch attempt on 180kg. Opeloge, 24, broke Commonwealth and Oceania records in snatch and total as he moved level with the athletes ranked ninth and tenth on 390kg.

“I’m very proud of Don, a humble young man who has worked very hard,” said Samoa’s head coach and federation president Jerry Wallwork. “He was very unlucky with that 220. Now the target is 400 in Thailand. Let’s hope all goes well with the preparations.”

Dan Opeloge (SAM)

Wallwork was referring to the final Olympic qualifier, the IWF World Cup in Phuket which runs from March 31 to April 11.

Elliott and Sasser are both ranked in the top 20 and will go head to head in Phuket for a continental qualifying slot. Sasser, who lifted for Marshall Islands at Rio 2016 and is back with her homeland after a spell competing for the United States, holds the advantage with a best total of 214kg.

Sasser snatched an Oceania record 98kg to lead by 1kg. Elliott turned the tables to win on 97-114-211, an improvement of 3kg in the rankings. She would have gone above Sasser if she had made her final attempt at 118kg.

I’ve been told my performance is the second highest Sinclair ever for an Australian female weightlifter,” said Elliott, who lifted at the Tokyo Olympics. “That’s a huge achievement for me and my coach Martin Harlowe after almost 11 years of investment in my weightlifting career.”

Elliott had a good word for the Australian Weightlifting Federation, which recently changed its policy and now allows personal coaches to work with their athletes at international events.

“It has had a huge impact on my performance in Qatar (96-112-208) and here in Auckland,” said Elliott. “I hope to see this ethos continue to drive the sport in Australia. I am absolutely aiming for Paris qualification in Thailand.”

Cikamatana remains fifth in the 81kg list on 261kg after failing three times to snatch 113kg. “Obviously Eileen was devastated,” said her coach Paul Coffa. “She will be looking to redeem herself in Phuket.” Hayley Whiting from New Zealand won on 92-105-197.

Australia also has a chance of a continental place at 89kg, where Kyle Bruce and Oliver Saxton will also go against each other in Thailand. There was only 1kg between them in snatch, but Saxton bombed out in clean and jerk. Bruce, who won on 147-181-328, holds a 7kg advantage in the rankings.

There will be another Australian head-to-head in the women’s 71kg.  Jacqueline Nichele, who bombed out on 94kg in the snatch in Auckland, has a 2kg rankings  advantage over Sarah Cochrane, who won on 97-112-209.

David Liti from New Zealand made his best total since the Tokyo Olympics when he won the men’s super-heavyweights on 177-236-413. Sanele Mao from Samoa bettered 400kg for the first time in second place on 178-230-408, and will try to close the 5kg gap in Phuket.

Iuniarra Sipaia had another good result for Samoa in winning the women’s super-heavyweights. Sipaia looks bound for Paris after improving her best qualifying total by 1kg on 110-155-265. She is ninth in the rankings.

Dika Toua (PNG)

Dika Toua’s attempt to break the all-time record for appearances at the Olympic Games will go down to the wire, too. Toua, from Papua New Guinea, narrowly failed with her final attempts as she won at 49kg to claim her 15th continental title.

She made the first lift by a woman at Sydney 2000 aged 16 and is trying to make it to a sixth Games in Paris in August, by which time she will be 40.

On a day when her 13-year-old daughter Ani Guavera won at 40kg and her sister Thelma took the 45kg title, Toua made 70-92-162. She missed her final snatch on 74kg, then easily cleaned 100kg but failed to complete the jerk.

Her total was lower than her best in qualifying and she remains 4kg behind her rival for the continental place at this weight, Rosina Randafiarison from Madagascar.

If she fails to make up the difference in Phuket, Toua’s hopes will not be dead. She has also applied for a universality slot. Six universality places, chosen by a Tripartite Commission, are available to nations that do not regularly qualify large teams for the Olympic Games.

To complete a memorable day for the most famous weightlifting family in Papua New Guinea, Dika’s cousin Morea Baru won the men’s 61kg on 112-150-262. He is all but sure of claiming a continental qualifying place for Paris.

There was ninth straight Oceania title for 40-year-old Jenly Wini from Solomon Islands at 55kg and a first for 14-year-old Femily Notte (from Nauru) at 64kg. Notte, who started weightlifting aged eight, made six good lifts in her 90-115-205 to take a sweep of youth, junior and senior titles. That was a 22kg improvement on her total at the World Youth Championships in Albania last year, where she finished sixth.

Another teenage winner was Avatu Opeloge for Samoa, daughter of the Beijing 2008 silver medallist Ele Opeloge. The 18-year-old made 91-120-211 at 76kg.

Fiji’s Taniela Rainibogi improved his best qualifying total by 8kg in making 160-205-365 to finish second to Don Opeloge, his friend and often his training partner.

Fiji’s ‘s younger lifters had a successful time in Auckland, giving evidence that the nation’s development plans for weightlifting are working well.

Zion Tokona, 16, broke Oceania records in his age group in winning the youth 96kg on 130-148-278. He has been a weightlifter for less than two years. Double gold medallist Miah Elder made 125-137-262, good enough for fourth in the 73kg seniors at the age of 14.

By Brian Oliver