Eileen Cikamatana, one of the brightest young talents in weightlifting, heads for the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra this week clinging on to a remote hope of competing at the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The multiple junior world record holder will train at the AIS until a new home is found for the Oceania Weightlifting Institute, which has left its previous base in New Caledonia.
Cikamatana, described by her coach Paul Coffa as "one of the unluckiest lifters in the world", became ineligible for Tokyo when she changed nationality and was unable to compete in the first phase of qualifying.
Coffa said Cikamatana, 20, will be training in Australia "to prepare for the 2021 Olympics", though making herself eligible looks a formidable challenge.
Qualifying rules were amended because of the postponement of the Olympic Games until next year, but regardless of those changes Cikamatana’s failure to compete in the first phase makes her ineligible for Tokyo through ranking points.
She was unable to compete internationally for a year when she switched nationalities during a dispute in her native Fiji, where the appointment of a new coach and a decision to move the team’s training base led to a mass boycott by athletes.
"This girl has been one of the unluckiest lifters in the world," said Coffa, who founded the Oceania Institute in 2001 and has based it in Fiji, Samoa and New Caledonia.
He is in discussions with the Australian Weightlifting Federation – whose President is his brother Sam – about establishing a new base for the Oceania Institute in Melbourne, Sydney or Canberra.
"She was suspended for not wanting to train with a coach she did not know, and for that missed out on two World Junior Championships which she would have won, and two World Senior Championships where she would have placed in the top two and possibly would have won.
"She came back better than ever, once she got her Australian citizenship in September 2019."
Cikamatana competed in four Olympic qualifiers, defeated an Olympic champion from China and set four junior world records in the 81kg and 87kg categories.
"Now it’s the coronavirus – locked down and in quarantine in Sydney," said Coffa.
"What is next? Will she win a gold medal at the next Olympics. Time will tell."
Coffa, who is also in quarantine in Sydney until the end of the week, clearly believes Cikamatana can still find a route to Tokyo, though he did not go into detail.
Another route to Tokyo is via a tripartite invitation, but those are delivered to nations who usually send small teams to the Games, which rules out Australia.
One theory is that Cikamatana could revert to Fijian nationality and apply for a tripartite invitation, but nobody is saying so openly.
Various groups of weightlifters from throughout the Pacific Islands have trained at the Oceania Institute under Coffa since the turn of the century.
Before setting up the Institute in 2001 Coffa, a former national coach of Australia, worked in Nauru for seven years and set up their National Olympic Committee.
The 78-year-old has coached Pacific Islands athletes to more than 40 Commonwealth Games medals, and worked with Samoa’s Ele Opeloge before she won a silver at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
You can read more about the Coffa brothers contribution to weightlifting in The Big Read