Marshallese Weightlifters are World Class at the Oceania Championships

Weightlifters Mathlynn Sasser and Kabuati Bob and coaches Terry Sasser and Mack Capelle represented Marshall Islands at the 2016 Oceania Weightlifting Championships and Olympic Games Qualification Tournament in Suva, Fiji.  More than 200 athletes from 19 Oceania countries competed at the Vodafone Arena from May 25-28 to determine which lifters will compete at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro later this summer.  The Government of Fiji, Fiji Weightlifting and the Organizing Committee put on a spectacular and well organized event that was attended by International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) top brass from each continent headed by IWF President Dr. Tamas Ajan and Oceania Weightlifting Federation (OWF) President Marcus Stephen.

“I was asked by reporters in Fiji how many months have we been preparing for this competition,” said junior 58kg weightlifter Mattie Sasser.  “I answered that I have been training for four and a half years.  There is no season for weightlifting; it is year-around. My teammates and I work out in the mornings for three hours and come back to the gym in the evenings for another three hours five to six days each week.”

Nineteen-year old Mattie, who is in her final year as a junior competitor, knew going into the competition that to win the 58kg/127lb senior tournament she would have to defeat veteran Jenly Tegu Wini of Solomon Islands and cross-fitter Tia-Clair Toomey of Australia, to whom Mattie came in 3rd place at last year’s Pacific Games. 

Head Coach Terry Sasser said, “When Marshall Islands Weightlifting Federation (MIWLF) President Tony Muller, Coach Mack Capelle and I discussed strategy before the competition, there were two areas we knew Mattie had to deliver to have a shot at Rio.  We decided that we should let both Mattie and Kabuati go for it during competition.  In the sport of weightlifting, it is sometimes just going one kilogram up on your opponent, but we knew the impeccable work ethic of our athletes and we knew their personal best lifts.  It was our job to keep them mentally focused and give them the opportunity to do their best.” 

After just missing her 88kg/194lb final snatch attempt, Mattie’s top snatch of 85kg/187lb set two longstanding junior snatch records and tied her with Tia for 2nd place, two points behind Jenly’s 87kg/192lb snatch, going into the clean and jerk portion of the competition.  However, Mattie has a strong clean and jerk, so while Australia started at 104kg/229lb and Solomons at 105kg/231lb, Mattie started with a 108kg/238lb clean and jerk.  

Coach Mack Capelle said, “The coaches for the others lifters were waiting to see if we would decrease Mattie’s first lift, and we were waiting to see if they would increase their lifters’ weights.  When they didn’t increase the first attempts for their lifters, we felt confident that Mattie had a great chance of winning the championship.  The warm-up platform was shouting distance from the monitor that tracks the lifts and lift changes.  We had the great advantage of being able to converse in Marshallese as we called back and forth with our strategy to stay strong and heavy, which both of our athletes delivered.” 

After her first 108kg/238lb clean and jerk, Mattie was in first place, breaking her own junior record. Her second lift was set at 113kg/249lb and she stayed firm there so both Australia and Solomon Islands had to increase their lifts to catch up with her.  Jenly from Solomons only raised her total to 108kg/238lb, which she completed, but Mattie’s coaching team held to their strategic plan, knowing Mattie could lift 113kg.  When Mattie successfully cleaned and jerked 113kg, making it look easy, she propelled herself back into first place, again breaking her junior record and breaking the standing senior clean and jerk record that has been in place since 2008.  Because Jenly only made a 3kg jump between her first and second lift, our coaches were confident that 113kg would be difficult for her to match, and she failed to complete the lift.  Already the winner, with one lift remaining, Mattie increased her weight by 1kg to lift 114kg/251lb for a new competition personal best and again breaking both the Oceania junior and senior 58kg clean/jerk record – while still a Junior lifter – for a 199kg/439lb combined total. 

MIWLF President Tony Muller said, “This was a huge win for Mattie and Kabuati witnessed by all the right people, including IWF’s top executives.  This is something that, as a nation, we should really be proud of.  Both lifters were successful with 5 of their 6 lifts, and Mattie broke records with each of her lifts, for a total of six new junior and two new senior Oceania 58kg records.”

Mattie was not the only strong Marshall Islands lifter at the Oceania Championships.  Kabuati Bob achieved a fourth place finish in the 85kg/187lb competition behind New Zealand, Samoa and Australia. In a field of thirteen, he just missed 3rd place.  His 294kg/648lb combined total improved his previous competition personal best by 12kg since last year’s Pacific Games.  Competing lift for lift with the top lifters in Oceania in the Olympic Qualifier, Kabuati beat lifters from New Caledonia, Samoa, New Zealand, Australia, Guam, Fiji, Tuvalu and Kiribati.  At 21 years of age, he was the youngest senior lifter in his weight class.  Each of his lifts was a personal competition best and it was clear that, coming out of the junior category, Kabuati is a force to be reckoned with in the Oceania senior weight class. 

While it would seem reasonable that her performance would automatically qualify Mattie to compete at the Rio Olympic Games, the qualification guidelines for weightlifting stipulate that to qualify one female weightlifter for the Games a team of seven female lifters must compete at the Oceania Championships/ Continental Qualifier.  Currently the Marshall Islands Weightlifting Federation does not have a full women's team of lifters. However, the final way to qualify is if the IWF, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) choose to offer her a Tripartite Invitation or “wild card” which is sometimes awarded to small Olympic Committees like Marshall Islands.  Four total Tripartite Invitations will be given to female weightlifters globally.

IWF President Dr. Ajan and a host of IWF and OWF’s top officials lauded Mattie’s performance as amazing.  During the Closing Ceremonies of the 2016 Oceania Championships, she was awarded both Best Junior Female Lifter and Best Senior Female Lifter of the competition.  RMI Ambassador to Fiji H.E. Ruben Zackhras, Albon Ishoda and their families were in the audience to cheer and support Marshall Islands’ athletes with great pride, as Marshall Islands’ anthem filled the stadium.


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