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Hailing from the remote islands of Kiribati, 21-year-old Lataisi Mwea came to Australia holding the national record for high jump and underwent an outstanding transformation to see him compete at the Tokyo Olympic Games in the 100m sprint.

Lataisi came to Australia in June of 2019 to embark on a 12-month training program on the Gold Coast ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. When COVID hit, Kiribati was forced to close its borders locking out numerous citizens and leaving Lataisi stranded in Australia. However, he was able to stay on, train and improve his skills as an athlete and while he missed his family and friends back home, he otherwise enjoyed his time on the Gold Coast.

One of only eleven people to ever compete at an Olympic Games from Kiribati, Lataisi spoke to us recently about his unusual journey to Tokyo and the challenges he faced along the way. 

Tell us about your pathway to Tokyo.

My pathway to Tokyo was not so easy, I used to be a high jumper and I wanted to compete in the 100m preliminaries, so I must face all these challenges.

I had to be the fastest from my country and I have other competitors back on my island who were faster than me. I had to do a lot of running which I'm not used to, and I had to run lots of races.
I had to break my national record and my personal best so that I could prove to my NOC that I am worthy of representing Kiribati. It was still not easy even though I had a good coach and great facilities to train at.

So, when I heard that I was chosen to represent my country I was full of joy, knowing that all my struggles were worth it.

Please explain some of the challenges you faced?

My preparation during the pandemic wasn't too affected because during the lockdowns I was a high jumper and when the restrictions started easing down that's when I started my training for sprinting.

How did your training on the Gold Coast prepare you for Tokyo?

It prepared me on how to run my own races and gave me confidence by knowing what it feels like.

How did you respond to adversity?

I have a community of Kiribati people in Brisbane, they've been supporting me, cheering for me, hanging out with them make me feel calm and easy, taking away all the stress from me.

What was your feeling once your arrived in Tokyo at the Olympic Village?

Arriving in Tokyo I was full of excitement. I couldn't wait to race.

Tell us about competing in Tokyo? Were you nervous?

I was nervous as I didn't want to mess anything up. I did not want to get a false start.

I was nervous of losing control of my run [and] not doing the right things that I've been practising.

Tell us about performing in front on empty stadium?

It was easier for me; I would have been even more nervous if there were a lot of people.

What was your best experience in the Olympic Games?

Learning what it's like to run in the biggest competition in the world and experiencing racing against the world’s best.  

What are your athletics plans for now? Commonwealth Games? Pacific Games? Paris 2024?

My plans now are to return stronger for the Commonwealth Games trying to actually qualify for the 200m, which is the event I'm strongest at.

[I would like to] try to get a medal in the Pacific Games and [I] would also [like to] try and actually qualify again for 100m and 200m in Paris 2024, so I would feel like I belong in there.

Tell us how it feels to represent your family and country?

It means everything to me. I'm so happy to make my country and family feel proud.

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