Vanuatu rowers set sights on Tokyo Olympics

FILE PHOTO: Construction workers and passersby are seen through Olympic rings in front of the construction site of the New National Stadium, the main stadium of Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, in Tokyo, Japan June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

PORT VILA, 19 NOVEMBER 2019 (RNZ PACIFIC) – After achieving a record finish at the World Rowing Coastal Championships, Vanuatu duo Rio Rii and Luigi Teilemb have some new goals in sight, aiming for the Tokyo Olympics and 2020 World Coastal Champs.

The pair placed eleventh in the world in Hong Kong earlier this month and made history for Vanuatu as the first to make it through to an ‘A Final’ in a world rowing event.

The Director of Rowing for the Vanuatu Rowing Association, Andrew MacKenzie, said it was exciting to see a developing country like Vanuatu do so well at these events.

“These guys, they’re from Vanuatu, they’ve grown up here, and they train here and its actually quite unusual in international sport to have developing countries being able to actually do all their training within their country itself because of the lack of resources so it’s very exciting,” he said.

MacKenzie said the pair were becoming more competitive and confident in competing at an international level.

“The more they succeed, the more competitive they get so on some level they were a little bit disappointed they didn’t do any better and in ways that’s a credit to them because they’re becoming very competitive and very confident about their ability to compete at that level,” he said.

“Coming home on reflection they were pretty pleased but very very hungry to keep training and to keep improving and to show that young athletes from the Pacific can match it on the world stage.”

Since taking up the role two years ago with a mission to develop young rowers and rowing coaches, MacKenzie said any major barriers – which included learning the local language – were quickly subdued once a set of ambitious goals were agreed to by all parties.

“When I first came here my biggest challenge was language but I’ve learnt the local language so I’m quite able to communicate with the guys and that has been positive but I think the second thing is that having experienced international competitions, they know what it takes to compete at that level and that’s a sign of a true athlete.”

The rowing team are now working towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with Rio Rii, who has an Olympic Solidarity scholarship, attending a training camp in Australia in the new year.

MacKenzie said it would give him the opportunity to compete domestically while also preparing for the Asia and Oceania Olympic Qualifications Regatta held in Korea in April.

“That’s the big one, that’s the crunch one so he needs to perform there and if he’s successful then he will qualify to go to the Olympic Games in Tokyo,” he said.

While Rio will be preparing for the Olympics individually, Luigi Teilemb will be focusing on the coastal form of the sport for their return to the World Rowing Coastal Championships held in Portugal next year.

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