Lifting the Weight off his Country’s Shoulders

By Lucy Budsworth (photos by Simon Smith) , The Reporters’ Academy



Deep in the vast Pacific Ocean, nearly 8,000km from Australia, the future of a country is in jeopardy, affected by a worldwide problem.  Global warming is submerging this paradise and its 118,000 proud islanders.  The sea levels are rising at an alarming rate, leaving much of the land that was once their home claimed by the sea.


Kiribati is made up of over 30 islands, each offering stunning beaches lined with coconut palms and inhabitants that are “real and supportive” in the words of their ‘Golden Boy’ weightlifter, David Katoatau.


He says: “They are always supportive; if some people are down then they all go and help them”.


It seems that Katoatau himself is the perfect example of this description – he has been campaigning to other nations for help to save the I-Kiribati people, as they refer to themselves, from the vicious consequences of climate change. The highest point is now only two meters above sea level. If you were to stand there, you would be able to view the locals desperately building sea walls, many only built after their situation had worsened, doing anything to protect their sacred land and families from the wrath of the tide. It may seem strange for many that a successful sportsman is the one that they look towards for inspiration and help regarding this worrying issue, but the truth is that they hold him in an affectionate state – arguably he has just as much respect shown to him as the government have.


In 2014, Glasgow held the 20th Commonwealth Games. This is when David truly burst on to the scene. His solid performances allowed him to claim the gold medal in the 105kg weightlifting category, and to celebrate Kiribati’s first ever medal from a major sporting event, he performed a unique dance – much to the delight of the crowd. Katoatau soon became known as the ‘Dancing Weightlifter’ and gained the attention of many sports fans and worldwide media, including a number of live interviews and guitar performances on TV across the world.


He states: “Lifting makes me happy, so I dance and the dancing makes other people happy.”


However, even now four years later and after demonstrating his dancing ability at other events such as the 2016 Olympics, not everyone is aware of the true reason he dances. Despite this, due to the attention he attracts, David has continued to try and spread the message regarding the struggle facing Kiribati:


“I have always danced after a good performance and then for the media I changed it to be for climate change as I always talk about it,” explains the 33 year old.


Katoatau hasn’t been living in the nation he was brought up whilst training, but he still pushes for the plea from the sinking islands to be spread internationally. To be heard. He is much loved by the people of Kiribati, as the Chef de Mission, Rota explains:


The impact that you have with politicians is quite different to the impact you have with David. The impact and message is spread a lot quicker when it comes from a ‘real’ person”.


Rota then highlighted how there is no escaping reality for locals, however, they will have to escape the danger they are in and leave Kiribati soon: “There is always this fear back home of what will happen. But people in Kiribati have the mentality that whatever comes, comes”.


Rota continued, pointing out how the prospect of migrating provided further worries for the unfortunate people of Kiribati, “There is the fear that we might lose our cultural identity but knowing our people, we will stick to our ways”. The Kiribati government have bought land from Fiji, allowing the affected an opportunity to move and begin to build their life in a safer place. Global warming is forcing these citizens to leave their area whilst the legacies of their ancestors are swept into the waves.


Now the issue has been raised, what actions do the people of Kiribati want to be taken? David speaks on behalf of them:


“Maybe some people out there can help to fix our sea walls.”


Rota also commented on the situation by saying that “locals build their own sea walls but on a national scale it isn’t there”. It is clear that Kiribati are eager to solve the issues but this can not happen unless they have support from other countries.


David Katoatau, a down-to-earth, gentle and humble athlete has expressed in such an upbeat way the devastation his nation faces. It is simply amazing how he accepted this responsibility and took it upon himself to raise awareness around the world of how we are damaging our own planet. He is admired by those he gave a voice to and is respected by the international leaders who appreciate his help.


Katoatau has now performed his final dance after announcing his retirement at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, although the spotlight will never dim on the ‘Golden Boy’. The dedicated mindset he possesses will be reinforced in his new career coaching upcoming athletes to become the best they can.



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