Could Manuel Minginfel win Gold in Beijing?

Manuel Minginfel with weightlifting guru Paul Coffa.

Could Manuel Minginfel be the Pacific’s answer to that elusive Olympic gold medal?

The Olympic Games have been around for over 110 years and during that time Australia and New Zealand have been hogging all the medals, with their small Pacific cousins left to make up the numbers.

Aside from Paea Wolfgramm’s silver medal at the Atlanta Games a decade ago, which still ranks as one of Tonga’s greatest moments, that could
all change come 2008, thanks to the 27 year-old Micronesian with the Spanish name.

For the past few years now, regional sports officials—whether admittedly or quietly—now realise that if an Olympic gold is to be won by a Pacific
nation, it will be in weightlifting.

It is the only sport where Pacific athletes are coming close to international standards.

The sport is certainly the sleeping giant.

Nauru’s Marcus Stephen (7 times Commonwealth Games gold medallist) got the ball rolling at the World Championships in Athens in 1999 when he clean and jerked 172.5kg to win a silver medal.

China won gold, but had to break the world record to beat Stephen. It is interesting to note that the gold medal this year was only 168kg. Legendary weightlifting guru Paul Coffa still ranks that as the best performance he’s seen from an islander in the sport.

Then there was Nauru’s Yukio Peter at the 2005 World Championship in Qatar when he won silver. Minginfel’s win a year later almost certainly proves the sport is gaining momentum and now it’s just a matter of time.

Living long in the shadows of Nauru’s Peter and Papua New Guinea’s Dika Toua who have had the limelight on them since their top ten finishes at the Athens Olympics two years ago, Minginfel changed the hierarchy in October when he won a silver medal at the World Weightlifting Championships in Santa Domingo.

Against 41 competitors, he won the silver medal in the clean and jerk section in the 62kg category with a lift of 165kg. He was 3kg from a gold

In fact, Coffa says he would have won gold had be matched his personal best at training. But lifting to a packed arena full of screaming people is harder to do than in the confines of a silent gym.

Minginfel became the first ever athlete from the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) to win a medal at a World Championships in any sport.

He is an IOC scholarship holder and a resident lifter at the Oceania Weightlifting Institute in Apia, Samoa. (now in New Caledonia)

He has now leapfrogged Peter and Toua as the highest internationally ranked weightlifter from the Oceania region, and that includes New
Zealand and Australia.

With a total of 293kg, he was placed 4th overall. As this world championship was also an Olympic qualification event, this now means that Minginfel has qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on his own merit. In two years time, he will have definitely improved if he stays injury free.

Coffa now believes weightlifting has not just one, but now three medal chances for Beijing.

Minginfel definitely looks like a medal contender in the 62kg category with Peter and Toua also in the mix.

Minginfel is already a national hero back home. He was the first FSM athlete to ever qualify (by his/her own merit) for an Olympic Games in 2004.

The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games were the first Olympic Games FSM competed in.  The FSM sent 5 wild-card entrants as non-qualified athletes. Minginfel, one of the 5 athletes, competed in the 56 kg weight division and did not complete a lift due to dehydration and weight loss. But his story goes back even further.

“The first time I heard of Manuel Minginfel was 10 years ago, when Brian Minikin (Oceania National Olympic Committee regional development officer) said to me that I should keep an eye on a young boy from FSM,” Coffa told ISLANDS BUSINESS.

“Young Minginfel impressed me quite a bit, his physique and his manners. He was only 56kg in bodyweight and snatched 80kg and clean & jerked 95kg.

“The first time I actually saw Minginfel was at the Mini South Pacific Games in Pago Pago, in August 1997. At the time I was the Director of Sports in Nauru and of course coaching the Nauru weightlifting machine, which...was developing into a powerhouse in the Pacific.”

Coffa credits FSM’s National Olympic Committee secretary-general Jim Tobin for much of Minginfel’s early development.

Minginfel announced his arrival in 1999 when he won three gold medals at the South Pacific Games in Guam competing in the 56kg category in 1999.  Also in the same year he competed at the World Championships in Greece and placed 25th in the 56kg category producing his best ever
performance of 232.5kg.

A year later in 2000, he was selected to compete at the Sydney Olympic Games.

But in what perhaps turned out to be a turning point in his career, he had to deal with a personal tragedy.

“One month prior to the Games his father was lost at sea,” says Coffa. He refused to go back to Yap (home island) because his father had once
told him that if anything would happen to him, Minginfel was to continue with the sport and not go back.”

Unfortunately in Sydney, due to cramps as a result of excessive weight loss, Minginfel did not total. But once he was over the mourning, his steely eyed focus turned back to his sport.

When he shifted to Fiji in 2002, Minginfel started to produce great results in his new bodyweight category of 62kg. He won the Oceania Championships in 2003 in Tonga, with lifts of 120kg, 150kg, 270kg Total, winning also the best lifter of the tournament.

Dropped the ball

He repeated this in 2004 in Suva during the Oceania Championships and Olympic Qualification event, producing his best ever performance again,
122kg, 160kg, 282kg Total. Minginfel in 2004 competed also at the Athens Olympic Games and finished just outside the top ten in 11th place.

In 2005, he competed at the World championships in Qatar and placed 7th and again produced his best performance, 123kg, 160 kg.

This was the same event where Peter created history by winning a silver medal.

But Peter has “dropped the ball” over the past few months, says Coffa, and will need to improve to get back on track. Peter placed eighth overall
in the 77kg category of October’s world champs and like Minginfel qualified for the Beijing Olympics on his own merits.

And this year of course, he won the Oceania Championships in Samoa and won the Pacific Rim Tournament against China, whilst again producing a best performance of 128kg, 156kg, 284kg total.

According to Coffa, Minginfel’s best performance in training is 135kg snatch, 170kg clean & jerk, 305kg total.

“His future is very bright. He is at an ideal age for weightlifting,” Coffa explains.

2007 will be an important year for Minginfel if he is looking for a medal in Beijing. He needs to be amongst the top three place getters next year
at the World Championships in Thailand.

But what does this mean for the Pacific? Coffa does not hold back with his reply.

“Simply there is no other Olympic sports producing such outstanding results at world level,” he says. “I guess the question everyone asks from around the world, is what makes these coconut lifters (which is the name I gave the Pacific lifters years ago when I was national coach of
Australia) so superior to others?

“I don’t know the answer to this. But I can categorically say that Pacific lifters have very little injuries.

“They can sustain an immense training load, average 15 tons per day for top lifters and have the ability to remain focused, day in and day out.”

Big talk, with results to back it up—but will the momentum last until 2008? We’ll wait and see with hot anticipation.

Courtesy - Peter Rees - Islands Business


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