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.

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