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Flight of fancy for Nauru athletes

india Updated: Oct 14, 2008 22:53 IST
Abhijeet Kulkarni
Abhijeet Kulkarni
Hindustan Times
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Just four days before the start of the Commonwealth Youth Games, Nauru weightlifter Utako Aliklik was fretting over whether she could make it to Pune in time. The two-member contingent was supposed to leave from the island on Friday but with a long waiting list for the lone flight to Brisbane, the squad was unsure whether they would actually be able to make the journey.

Nauru’s Our Airlines offloaded two passengers to accommodate Aliklik and sprinter Rose Mystique-Jones on the flight and the former ensured that their efforts were worth the trouble as she grabbed a bronze medal in the 48kg category. Though Aliklik was not willing to comment on the trouble she had undertaken to reach India, chef-de-mission Leo Keke admitted that it was not a ‘smooth flight’.

He preferred to sidestep the question about whether it was right to offload passengers to accommodate the athletes but said “the airlines managed to get them to Pune in time.”

Nauru is the world’s smallest island nation located in the Micronesian South Pacific and its domestic airlines, Our Airlines, operates just two flights to Brisbane every week. “There are other ways to get to Brisbane but it takes days.

“By the time we completed the documentation, there was a huge waiting list and there was no way we could have got here without a special effort,” Keke said. The three-member contingent reached Pune after a 37-hour journey via Singapore and Keke said one medal from two athletes was a satisfactory result. Aliklik’s teammate Mystique-Jones reached the semifinals of the women’s 100m. “We were never expecting a medal in sprint. Weightlifting is the most popular sport back home and we were actually expecting that Aliklik would win a silver,” Keke added.

In fact, the Republic of Nauru’s current president, Marcus Stephen, has won seven gold and five silver medals in the Commonwealth Games and is also the secretary-general of the country’s Nnational Olympic Committee.

Keke pointed out that there were many senior lifters with potential to win medals in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and the 17-year-old Aliklik would actually find it difficult to get into the squad.