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No sweet island life for Pacific lifters
There are no physiotherapists or masseurs at the Oceania Weightlifting Institute on the island of New Caledonia, where the 24-year-old from Papua New Guinea trains.
There are no nutritionists or sports psychologists, either, and yet the bare-bones training centre has churned out a new generation of top weightlifters from all over the Pacific.
Bursting into the Olympic gym in Beijing, Toua and her friends from palm-fringed islands such as tiny Yap are all smiles, jokes and laughter. But their life at the institute is far from easy-going: no alcohol, no smoking, and one thought from morning to night.
"Our life is all about weightlifting, we eat, sleep, drink, everything is just weightlifting," Toua told Reuters before a training session at the gym.
"Life is a bit hard, we're a bit blocked in, but if we discipline ourselves we get results," she said, watching her fellow islanders hoist twice their own weight in barbells.
A smattering of Pacific islands that are mere pinpricks on the world map have turned into top weightlifting contenders in less than a decade.
The international success of lifter Marcus Stephen, now president of Nauru, sparked a Pacific craze for the sport. The region's Olympic medal hopes centre on lifters such as Manuel Minginfel from Yap, which is part of the Federated States of Micronesia, and Ele Opeloge from Samoa.
"Nauru became the powerhouse of the Pacific," said Stephen's former coach, Australian Paul Coffa, who now looks after the Pacific weightlifters.
"You'd go around the island and you'd see young kids with broomsticks, lifting. That opened the door for the other countries."
Coffa founded the training institute six years ago to shape that enthusiasm into sporting results.
He has a couple of theories for why the islanders have become so successful in the sport -- the warm weather keeps the lifters' joints supple, and a fondness for rough sports such as rugby means athletes rarely complain of pain.
The discipline of the team also helps.
Toua looks forward to relaxing under the mango and coconut trees in her village on Papua New Guinea after the Games -- she is allowed a break after every major sporting event. But do not expect a boozy beach party if one of the islanders wins a medal.
"No party. We can go for a big dinner, that's how we've been doing it -- there's a big dinner and congratulations but we don't party," Toua said
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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