MORE THAN FIFTY YEARS.
The first medal performance recorded by an I-Kiribati athlete was by Tara Mango (aka Nantara) in the M10000m. at the first-ever South Pacific Games in Suva in 1963. His record of 36-46.2 still stands, as does the record of one of his team-mates at the same Meeting, Kautu Rabangaki in the M1500m. who missed the medals but recorded 4-32.4. And all this on a grass track too !
From the performance information which we have received in the past years from such statisticians as Fletcher McEwen, Bob Snow, Winfried Kramer and Tony Isaacs, it has been possible to create our own Rankings List, and these achievements date back to the 1960s, 1980s, and later. In the days before Kiribati Independence in 1979, athletes represented the Gilbert and Ellice Islands.
In more recent times, I-Kiribati athletes travelled to Perth for the Pacific School Games in 1996. Since then participation has increased rapidly and standards in some events, particularly on the Field, have also improved. Since August 1999, we have been grateful members of IAAF and OAAA/OAA, reaping the benefits of such memberships. Most of our athletes are still of school age and the schools give great encouragement to the sport. As in many parts of the world, the problem is how to retain these elite sportspeople (with international experience) after they leave school ? One way we are hoping will be effective is to enable more and more to become active in KAA, as officials, coaches, etc. In 2013, five of the nine voting members of the KAA Executive are former athletes. The age of the team changed in 2007/2008 so that an increasing percentage of our travelling athletes had left school. However, a commitment to tertiary education means trying to balance study and training. Few have found the answer to this problem yet.
OUR FIRST COMMONWEALTH GAMES. (Manchester 2002.)
Having failed to get athletes to Kuala Lumpur in 1998 (only weight-lifters went, at the last second !), we had two track athletes in Manchester, Kaitinano Mwemweata and Karibwataake Katimiri, both sprinter-jumpers. They were a little overwhelmed, but gained from the experience and contributed much on the social and cultural side of the trip. (They, together with the representatives from Weight-Lifting, Table-Tennis and Triathlon, formed the delegation. Part of the group appeared several times on British TV giving a dance presentation.)
Our performances in Melbourne were confined to male sprinting and, although we had four athletes present, various injuries caused individual withdrawals and no Relay team for the 4 x 100m. The fastest in the 100m. was Ieie Matang who set a PB of 11.63. Rabangaki Nawai competed well in the 200m., setting a new NR of 22.81 which stood until 2012. Nevertheless, as in Manchester, it was a fruitful social occasion, particularly spreading the culture to enthusiastic local schools.
OUR FIRST OLYMPIC GAMES. (Athens 2004.)
We were accepted into the Olympic movement in July 2003 and so everything to do with Athens 2004 had to be done in a hurry ! The delegation from KNOC included one weight-lifter (who entered via a wild card invitation) and, by IOC "small-team" invitation, we again had two track athletes at a major meeting. Kaitinano Mwemweata had the privilege of being our first Olympian, setting a new National Record for the 100m. (13.07) Kakianako Nariki was the male athlete and he achieved a PB, also in the 100m. (11.62) Not only were they in great demand for photos in national dance costume but featured on BBC radio, in global magazines like "Sports Illustrated", in international newspapers and even on Internet web-sites !
History gives you a base, a foundation on which to build. It is to be hoped that the next generation of Kiribati athletes will find inspiration and stimulus in the activities and achievements of these "pioneers" !
Although our best male athlete, Rabangaki Nawai, travelled to Beijing, he could not take advantage of the situation to set a new NR to break his own time of 11.17. Our female runner, Kaitinano, unfortunately was taken ill en route and had to spend some time in hospital in Fiji. By November 2008 she had fully recovered and competed successfully in the bi-ennial Inter-Island "Runga" for her home island, Butaritari.
DELHI C.G. 2010.
Following our first participation in the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune (India) in 2008, KAA athletes travelled to Delhi as part of the Kiribati delegation to the Commonwealth Games. (Please check the relevant News item.)
The year 2004 saw KAA staging its first recorded Multi-Events competition, a Pentathlon (on October 16th.) Two months later, we had competitors in the Oceania Pentathlons in Townsville. The female athlete, Kimaia Dan Murdoch, missed the bronze medal by just 25 points, in spite of setting a National Record in the Javelin !
In 2004, we also had our first Invitation Meeting for Primary Schools. Admittedly it was Track only, but involved over 200 students from the six schools invited. We hope to expand it to include a jump and a throw.
Since then, the Primary Schools have had a regular team competition which is in two age-groups and includes a variety of distances to run, a Relay, and one jump and one throw.
In 2008 we made, in company with other Oceania Island nations, our first venture into the World Indoor Championships. Rabangaki went to Valencia and set a fair time of 7.26 for the 60m. on the boards. This initiative has been continued every two years to date. In 2012 Nooa Takooa and Etita Tio travelled to Istanbul and achieved 60m. PBs. This was the first time an I-Kiribati woman has competed indoors and shows an increase in invitations from IAAF, previously only one unqualified athlete was invited.
Masters' Athletics competitions have been added to the KAA Calendar, with an initial venture in 2012 being followed by another in 2013. Hopefully this will become an annual fixture and will motivate more ex-athletes and others to take up the challenge of competing at age 30+.
DEVELOPMENT CONTINUES !
We have had disappointments (like not getting to Palau in 2005 for the SP Mini Games due to faulty information about visas), adventures (like being stranded in Majuro in December 2005 when the Air Nauru plane was impounded, and stranded in Nadi when the Tarawa airport was closed in December 2006 !), some long-time National Records being broken, some big leaps forward (like sub-60 for the M400m. Hurdles), and a greater interest in year-round, planned training. We went to another two Commonwealth Games (in Melbourne in 2006, and Delhi in 2010) with mixed results including a sensational 200m. The same boy, Rabangaki Nawai, has shown himself to be one of the top athletes in Oceania, winning the Micronesian Octathlon in 2005 and placing second in Oceania in 2006. He placed second again in 2008 in Saipan ! But his progress had been the result of work on all his events, and sensible time-management to fit in the demands of Form 7 in 2006 and other activities since leaving school. Unfortunately joining the course at the Marine Training Centre, giving him a career in the Merchant Navy, meant an end to his Athletics career.
Other signs of development from 2008 included our first-ever GOLD MEDAL in an Oceania AA event, with David Birati winning in Saipan with 1.92m.; our first-ever participation in the Commonwealth Youth Games (in Pune, India), with David competing in the High Jump (1.80) but missing the Triple (!), and newcomer thrower Raobu Tarawa throwing the 1.75k. Discus 39.35m. and putting the 6k. Shot 13.04m., both PBs; and our first-ever Team Management (Tierata Taukaban) and Technical Official (Eria Maeriua) appointments to Oceania Championships.
There is an evident desire of KAA to broaden the coaching base by staging a long-needed in-country IAAF CECS Level 1 Coaching course. Two qualified coaches were sent to OAA at Gold Coast to do a Level 1 Lecturers' course. Unfortunately they did not quite reach the required standard but they have been encouraged to assist when an outside Lecturer can be brought in. This was finally achieved in January 2014 with the assistance of Josaia from Fiji, as arranged by OAA. The result was that nine men and one woman qualified as IAAF CECS Level 1 coaches. Josaia was assisted to run the course by the two Gold Coast attendees, Tekabara Raurenti and Brian Fukuyama. External funding covered most of the course costs.
BIG LEAPS FORWARD !
Apart from the M200m. and M400m. Hurdles mentioned above, significant improvements have been made in the M100m., M4 x 100m., M110m. Hurdles, M4 x 400m., and all the Mens' Throws. The Womens' Throws have shown some break-throughs. A big promotion of multi-events, in Kiribati, in Micronesia, and now in Oceania, has again proved that we have among the best all-rounders. In the Pacific Mini Games in Wallis in 2013, Boitu Baiteke - already holder of the NR for MTJ - broke new ground in completing the first-ever Decathlon by an I-Kiribati athlete. In so doing he also set the first KAA NR for Pole Vault.
WHERE DOES IT START ?
Of course, it starts in the Primary Schools. We have expanded our Inter-Primary competition and included Standing Broad Jump and Shot (in 2008 the "Vortex"). There is enthusiastic cooperation from the teachers and exuberance from the athletes ! In 2006, the weather interfered, but we had our third annual Competition, now a Team Championship. We are managing to produce these improvements with the help of school-based coaches, but the facilities have not been up-graded by the responsible Ministries. Our Outer Island Project, funded by OAA, sent KAA officials to the outer islands to run OBAS (Basic Athletics) courses. One result was a dramatic increase in the number of islands participating in the bi-ennial Inter-Island Championships in 2006 and subsequently. It was maintained in a lower-key competition in 2008 with 13 Mens' teams and 7 Womens' teams taking part in a close Team competition, won by Makin. Even in 2013 (postponed from 2012), there were 12 Mens' teams and 6 Womens' teams.
With two of the current KAA Committee having gained IAAF (new) CECS Level 5 Academy Coach Awards in 2006, we are being recognised internationally and building a good reputation. Thus we have had three of our coaches invited to assist with the management of OAA Grand Prix Squads plus the Oceania Islands team to AYOF in Sydney this year (2007). Also, in the "Signs of Development" above. And of course, there is the web-site !
DL 29/12/08 Amended 15/10/13 and 29/03/14.
These are of Tierata Taukaban with Rabangaki and then David Birati. The others show Nooa in London, Etita in Cairns, Raobu in Shot action in Bairiki, and Ieie training off blocks at Bairiki.