the real deal
“I am just a normal village girl from Ovalau,’’ Eileen Floanna Maria Cikamatana told Mai Life during a training session at the National Fitness Center last month. “But I want to achieve what others have not in the sport of weight lifting.” She was on a break from the Oceania Weight Lifting Center in New Caledonia and was home for two weeks before she takes on the world in Japan in late June. Eileen Floanna Maria Cikamatana first made headlines when she won the Commonwealth Youth Games gold medal for weightlifting some two years ago. She went on to bring home more titles in the South Pacific Games, the Oceania Championships and by the end of last year many people were pretty sure she would be the future face of female sports stars in Fiji. What this 17 year old had accomplished in only her third year in the sport was what her coaches termed ‘beyond belief’ in the field of weightlifting in Fiji. She is a prodigy and by all means a freak if we take into account how much she has moved up since she started – it’s almost too fast. Australian weightlifting coach Paul Coffa said after last year’s Oceania Championships in Suva said she was the best thing to have come out of the Fiji sporting scene. “She will be the greatest athlete Fiji has ever had,’’ he said in a media report in April 2016. She is the real deal. By the age of 16, this fresh faced, quiet but determined young woman from a small village on the island of Ovalau had taken weightlifting apart, not only in the region but on the international stage. Eileen is not your typical type of elite athlete. Many athletes make it to the top levels of weightlifting after many years in a sport where toughness, technique, muscle balance and development as well as mental drive have to be built over time. Cikamatana managed to grasp all this in a little over two years. How she took up the sport has be re-told countless times, but why she did has never been properly asked. “The training attracted me in the first place, it was different and interesting from other sports I had participated in. At first I was not allowed by my parents because I was too young, but I kept on asking and after finishing primary school started trying out for real,’’ she told MaiLife during the short holiday in Fiji. “When competition started getting serious, I was always motivated by how much my family supported me; every day I train for them because they will go to the ends of the earth to support me. Cikamatana began serious competition in 2014 and by 2015 she was the Commonwealth Youth Champion. By early 2016 she became the Oceania Junior champion and second in the Open division behind Fiji’s own Apolonia Vavai. Before the year was up she had won the World Youth title in Malaysia – a feat Fiji Weightlifting Association’s Atma Maharaj said was something never before achieved by any Fiji female athlete across all sports. She also won three Silver Medals at the Commonwealth Championships in Malaysia, in the Senior, Junior and Youth divisions. Officials had opted for Cikamatana to miss the Olympics (even though she qualified) so she could gain more experience.
Her family might have also silently favoured the idea that she took smaller steps on her way to the top because she was moving so fast. But by skipping Brazil she was rewarded with the win in Malaysia. This year kicked off on another high for Cikamatana. In March she took out the Australian Open, clinching two gold medals in the 90kg category where she totaled 136kg in the clean and jerk. She not only set new records but also won the best all round female award. Cikamatana had a very simple upbringing and learnt to work hard very early in life in Taviya village. She grew up in tune with nature, working on the family farm and doing her chores around the home like normal village girls. Her dad Sevanaia, or Junior as everyone calls him, provided for the family through his trucking business and kava plantation. He is also a gifted mechanic, often spending countless hours in his garage fixing engines or parts for people from all over the island. Meanwhile Mum, a strong willed and no nonsense woman from neighbouring Bureta village, kept the family affairs in order including the discipline of the children. Naturally, the eldest sibling Rosalini started helping out with the family’s financial burdens as soon as she started working in Suva. It was in this close-knit, loyal and staunch Catholic family setting that Cikamatana was brought. “Where I come from we struggled – but mum and dad made sure we always had what we needed. My family is my motivation and helps me find my own killer instinct within me during competition,’’she said. What the family thought at first to be just an intense but passing passion that would die down with age became serious stuff when they realised they were nurturing a hidden talent and growing potential in Eileen. Her uncle and coach who discovered her Joe Vueti had informed the family that Eileen had the potential to become something great. “Her commitment to training went from hours, to days and after months and many competitions, we realised she really had something,’’ Mum Makitalena said.
Last year she was whisked far away from the comfort of her home and family on a training scholarship to live and train in New Caledonia. For a young person who had been always at home, the fear of the unknown and being away from mum, dad and her siblings became more overwhelming than the excitement of training with the best. I It took some getting used to, but soon she felt in her element. “Training at the Oceania Weightlifting Centre is tough but enjoyable and there are no distractions like I used to have back home. I can focus only on training and nothing else.” Cikamatana is now preparing for another world meet scheduled from 15-23 June. The IWF World Junior Championships in Tokyo are a step up from the World Youths platform she competed in last year. She will be up against athletes who are two years older than her and will also move up from her usual 69kg to the 90kg category. Before that she has been invited to compete in a one day meet in France on June 10. After France she will fly to Rome for a week;s training camp before she heads off to Tokyo on June 18. “We expect greater competition as this is her first year as a Junior and she will be competing against older athletes, while most of the Youth Athletes she competed against in Malaysia will also have moved up,’’ Maharaj told MaiLife. “She has a very busy calendar. In September she will compete at the Commonwealth Championships on the Gold Coast in Australia, which will also be the qualifying tournament for the Commonwealth Games. The Championships will also serve as the Oceania Championships. “In December there are two major meets, the Pacific Mini Games and World Championships, Anaheim, USA and she will compete in one of these.” Maharaj said Fiji has probably three athletes in Eileen Cikamatana, Apolonia Vavai and Manueli Tulo who could be in contention for gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in April 2018. Eileen Floanna Maria Cikamatana is a definite possibility.” Uncle Joe Vueti says Eileen is destined for greater heights but has to be injury free to be able to get through the busy schedule this year. “We have high hopes for her, as long as he stays injury free i am confident she can compete against the best in the world in also the Open Division.”
Eileen Cikamatana... no substitute for hard work
Eileen with mum Makitalena at her St John Cawaci prize giving last year. Photo by MANHAR VITHAL
Flashback... primary school graduation with Father Inia Tikolutu and mum. Photo by MANHAR VITHAL
My family motivates me, says Eileen.