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Planet Ark World Environment News Sinking Pacific Nations Face Uncertain Games Future

Date: 08-Aug-08
Country: AUSTRALIA
Author: Michael Perry

Tuvalu is sending three athletes to Beijing, its first Olympics after being accepted into the International Olympic Committee in 2007.

Tuvalu is a ring of nine Polynesian islands covering 560 sq km of ocean, but with only 25.9 sq kms of land. The biggest island is only 5.6 sq kms.

So Tuvalu's track and field athletes Asenate Manoa and Okilini Tinilau and weightlifter Logona Esau were forced to train in the larger South Pacific nation of Fiji and the French territory of New Caledonia.

Manoa stayed at a hotel in the Fijian capital Suva and ran to the track each day as a warm-up, before practising block starts for the first time in her career, then fell asleep at her desk.

"She's never experienced this type of training before and she is just exhausted but she will go well in Beijing," Oceania National Olympic Committee secretary general Robin Mitchell told news website www.tuvaluislands.com.

Climate change experts say Tuvalu may disappear within 50 years. High winds, king tides and rising sea levels are already causing erosion, shrinking the nation's nine low-lying reef islands and coral atolls.

"It must be a dreadful situation to be in, where the history of your forefathers stands to be lost," Rob Gell, president of Greening Australia, told Australian media this week.

Thousands of Tuvaluans have already left their island home, opting to restart their lives in New Zealand.

But Tuvalu is not the only South Pacific island nation at Beijing facing the same fate.

Kiribati, who will send three athletes to its second Olympics, is also sinking. Each year storm surges flood Kiribati islands, eating away at the coastline and contaminating fresh water supplies with sea water.

A total of 70 athletes from 15 South Pacific island nations will compete in Beijing.

The single island nation of Nauru, once a wealthy country due to phosphate mining but now reliant on foreign aid, will send only one athlete, weightlifter Itte Detenamo.

Papua New Guinea will have the largest South Pacific team of seven athletes, followed by Fiji and Samoa with six.

The Marshall Islands, also making its Olympic debut, will send five athletes. While Tonga, the last Polynesian monarchy, will see its team, cheered on by a crown prince and princess.

The South Pacific nations have sent 10 weightlifters to Beijing, many training in New Caledonia under the watchful eye of Oceania weightlifting coach Paul Coffa.

"I am pleased that all lifters have reached this final stage injury free. Each and everyone of them is looking forward to the competition," Coffa wrote in an open letter on the "Oceania in Beijing" website (www.sportingpulse.com).

Islands Business news magazine said weightlifting is "the sleeping giant" sport which could see the South Pacific snare that elusive Olympic gold medal.

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

(For more stories visit our multimedia website "Road to Beijing" at http://www.reuters.com/news/sports/2008olympics ; and see our blog at http://blogs.reuters.com/china )

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