Cook Islands Looking To Bring Overseas-Based Olympians Home To Be Recognized

Only one out of nine Rio athletes typically resides in Rarotonga

By Rashneel Kumar 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, August 16, 2016) – Cook Islands Sports and National Olympic Committee (CISNOC) is trying to get the Team Cook Islands athletes at the Rio Olympic Games home to provide the local community with an opportunity to meet them.

The nine-member team has only one locally-based athlete and the rest are from New Zealand and Australia. Team Cook Islands chef de mission Robert Graham said they were working on getting all the athletes back home to thank them for their effort at the games. The national side ended its campaign at the Rio Olympics over the weekend and the first batch of athletes was due to return to New Zealand yesterday.

The remaining athletes and officials are scheduled to leave Rio de Janeiro on August 23.

“At this stage, we are trying to see if we can bring our athletes home so our people and sporting community will have the opportunity to meet their athletes who have represented them at the Olympics. We are hoping to confirm this very soon,” Graham said. The country was represented by Alex Beddoes and Patricia Taea from athletics, canoeists Bryden and Ella Nicholas, sailors Teau McKenzie and Taua Elisa, swimmers Tracy Keith-Matchitt and Wesley Roberts and weightlifter Luisa Peters.

Graham said compared to the London Olympics in 2012, the results achieved by the Team Cook Islands in the 2016 Olympics were much better.

The highlight of the team’s achievement came from athletics in which sprinter Taea qualified to the second round of heats in the women’s 100 metres race.

“Never in the history of Cook Islands attending the Olympics have we managed to do this either in the men’s or women’s events; this is an achievement,” Graham said. In the kayaking, the Nicholas siblings finished 18th overall in the K1 Slalom, which was another great achievement.

“Sailors Taua and Teau did an outstanding job racing with the world’s best. The course was hard most days, as the athletes would agree, but they managed to improve their placing each day.

“In swimming, Wesley and Tracy, again both athletes as first timers to the Olympics, showed great potential for future Olympics and games.”

And weightlifter Peters capped off Team Cook Islands’ campaign on a high with a mighty total lift of 224kg in the women’s plus-75kg category on Sunday.

“Overall, I am proud of our nine athletes who have just represented the Cook Islands at the pinnacle of all games, at the Olympics, and managed to achieve great results against the world’s best,” Graham said.

“Yes, the overall results, standard and placings have improved. Patricia Taea is an example.”

Graham said this year’s Olympic Games was full of challenges which they managed to overcome through team spirit.

“I am very proud as chef de mission of Team Cook Islands of the achievements our athletes have managed at this games. They might not have won medals, but they are all winners to me.

“Also, we couldn’t have done this without the support of our Government and sponsors. Meitaki maata to the Government of the Cook Islands, Fave Designs, Vonnia’s, Matai Designs, Tav’s and most of all, our sporting community of the Cook Islands.” The 2016 Olympic Games end this Sunday.

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I was interested in reading about the nine Olympic athletes who had represented the Cook Islands in Rio. The Cook Islands are included within Polynesia, which according to White and Tengan, Disappearing Worlds, consist largely of colonial and quasi-autonomous states whose people have largely migrated to urban areas along the Pacific Rim, such as Hawaii, California, Australia, and New Zealand. It is not surprising, then, that just one of the nine athletes is a native of the Cook Islands. The other athletes are either from New Zealand or Australia. The theme of homogeneity vs. diversity is displayed here because while the Cook Island native may have preferred to retain his traditional Polynesian identity, he had chosen to broaden his horizons by embracing a Western model of athleticism by participating in the Greek games.

I agree with Miles on how the theme of homogeneity vs diversity has played out on this narrative. To me, this is also a display of native pride and courage form those who refuse to let others define or regulate what they can or can not do only because they are from a tiny island in the South Pacific. The fact that the other nine, although Cook Islanders as well that were respectfully from bigger places (New Zealand and Australia) outside of this tiny place, it did not intimidate this young man from defining who he is as a person and as an athlete. He was able to rise above the occasion and even took it a step further. Not only that he made it to the Olympics, but he was also willing to compete at the same level to represent his home island of Cook. According to Epeli Hau'ofa, often times, we are preconditioned to believe that if we are powerless because we came from tiny islands in the middle of the vast sea. In such a depiction, we are decreased, as well, in our global status to compete because we are not big enough. However, Hau'ofa went on to say that Pacific Islanders must now understand and remember that we are more than that, and that we are capable of being ourselves and be able to expand if we need to. There is no denying that colonization has tipped the scale to the point of no return but the fact remains that as long as we know our identity and exactly where we came from, we will still have a fair chance to compete on a global level.

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