Jenly Wini is perhaps not what you’d expect. The image of a World Class weightlifter is perhaps a little different from the slight, polite, smiling young lady that greeted me.
However, make no mistake this Solomon Islander displays an inner strength to match the strength that she displays on the weightlifting stage.
This is the second time that Jenly has been selected to be Flagbearer at the Games. Her first being four years ago in London. In fact, it’s a role that she has almost become accustomed to, after her other two stints at the Pacific Games.
Sat with this affable athlete, it’s easy to see how she’s viewed as a role model for her country. Competition wise, she holds numerous records and titles. For instance, she was the first female weightlifter from the Solomon Islands to win Gold at the Oceania Championships and on the world stage, she’s regularly ranked in the top twenty.
However, to carry the flag at the opening Ceremony of an Olympiad is, rightly, much more than being a top class athlete. For everyone in your country and in front of billions around the World you are the ‘face’ and inspiration for many. From the young child in Honiara to the regular bodybuilder in the local open air gym – it’s seen as much more than holding the flag of your country. It’s a person who makes you feel proud, it’s a person who inspires you take up sport or it’s a wonderful image of your island around the World.
Jenly, like many Olympians, was once that young athlete who was inspired to ‘have a go’ at a sport. Initially, a rugby player, she used to go the local gym and “used to pass by the boys lifting and I decided that I would change sport.” Jenly means from rugby to weightlifting. However, by her feats, she is beginning to actually change sport in her country for young female lifters.
Her first success was in 2009 at the Pacific Mini Games in the Cook Islands where she picked up a handful of Silver medals. It was here when she noticed the potential for Women to lift and win medals. A culture of celebrating the talent of female athletes.
That inner strength and commitment of those that reach the Olympics is evident as she tells me;
“I have been at the Pacific training camp in New Caledonia for 10 months ahead of the Games. Training twice a day. It’s not just about lifting weights, you have to work on your techniques constantly just to gain a 1kg improvement.”
It seems typical of this modest and focused athlete that there’s no mention of the honour of carrying the flag until I raise the subject over half way through the interview.
“ I just want to lift my personal best at these Games and compete alongside the world’s best.”
With a little prompting, she opens up about the opportunity to lead her nation out at the iconic Maracana.
“ I know that everyone back home will be watching me and I’m carrying the flag for all those people back in the Solomon Islands. I’m happy for their support and also I thank my family.”
The girl from Honiara is an experienced athlete and is reaching the autumn of her career. As a qualified coach, she tells me that her thoughts are turning towards the next stage of her weightlifting story.
“ I’m planning to train young athletes back home to get to a higher level. We are hosting the 2023 Pacific Games, so it will be a good thing for me to be home and preparing the young lifters for that. It will be a good thing to see more Solomon Island kids travelling for international competition. This will also help young people with their diet and health. I hope to start helping out as soon I get home after these Olympics.”
As the people of the Solomon Islands tune in to watch the Opening Ceremony they will know that the flag is in good hands. More importantly, Jenly aims to ensure that the future of weightlifting and the development of young people on the islands is also in safe hands.
Jenly Wini competes in the Women’s 58kg category of the weightlifting competition on Monday 8th August.
By Glyn McGuire or The Reporters' Academy
Last Modified on 06/08/2016 08:42