Weightlifters from eight countries across the Oceania region will gather in Brisbane this weekend for the 2018 Australian Open at the Sleeman Sports Complex – and the competition is set to be more ferocious than ever.
With last year’s event having served as a qualifier for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, which will take place in nearby Gold Coast in April, this year’s Australian Open will feature a series of competitors who have lofty ambitions, as well as many who have already established outstanding reputations on the international stage.
Amongst the athletes coming from all corners of the host country, Cameroon-born Francois Etoundi, who has been selected to represent Australia at the upcoming Commonwealth Games, will compete in the men’s 77kg category.
No fewer than 20 of the competitors will be teenagers, providing an exciting glimpse of the future, including Tasmanian Stephanie Pickrell, who will compete in the women’s 48kg division and has been tipped as an up-and-coming star after a series of impressive performances last year.
However, the Australian athletes will need all the support they can get from the home fans, with several weightlifters with Olympic Games experience ready to challenge for places on the podium.
Among them will be Jenly Wini, who was the flagbearer for her native Solomon Islands at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics and also competed at the Rio 2016 Games. She will be hoping for a repeat of her gold medal in the 58kg division at the 2015 Pacific Games in Port Moresby.
Sisters Thelma and Dika Toua from Papua New Guinea will also present significant challenges to the home favourites in the women’s 48kg and 53kg categories, respectively. Thelma Toua won three gold medals at the 2015 Pacific Games, while Dika Toua picked up gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow with a record total lift for the event of 193kg.
In the men’s competition, it is also worth watching out for the 105kg division, which will feature two gold medal-winners from the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Dancing legend David Katoatau will be targeting further glory after winning Kiribati’s first ever Commonwealth Games gold medal in the 105kg division four years ago, while Steven Kari of Papua New Guinea has moved up from the 95kg category.
Morea Baru will also harbour ambitions of bringing a medal home to Papua New Guinea in the men’s 62kg division, having finished sixth in his category at the Rio Olympics two years ago. However, Baru will be up against a number of tough rivals in a competitive division, including Fijian pair Poama Qaqa and Manueli Tulo.
Qaqa won a gold medal in the Oceania Junior Championships and a bronze in the Oceania Senior Championships in Gold Coast back in September, while Tulo, a former Fiji Sportsman of the Year, claimed gold at the 2016 Australian Open before edging out Elson Brechtefeld and Australian Lynton Hargrave for top spot at the Oceania Championships last year.
Hargrave and Brechtefeld are back again for this year’s Australian Open, with a mouth-watering competition in prospect.
Remarkably, Brechtefeld will be one of five athletes representing the remote Republic of Nauru, the smallest state in the South Pacific and home to only 11,000 inhabitants, demonstrating the reach of a truly global sport.