Why This Dancing Weightlifter From Kiribati Is The Greatest Olympic Hero Of Our Times

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1:50 pm 19 Aug, 2016


When we say ‘greatest Olympian’, the first name that comes to our minds is Michael Phelps. There is no doubt he has achieved something that might remain unbroken for many years to come. But David Katoatau of Kiribati and his countrymen might never even get a chance to challenge Phelps’ record. And yet he dances.

David Katoatau finished sixth in the 105kg weightlifting competition at Rio Olympics 2016. His position was obviously unremarkable, but he made himself the centre of everyone’s attention at Rio with his dancing after every successful (and one unsuccessful) lift he made on the platform.

Here is a glimpse of his dance.


While the crowd cheered for him each time, many were oblivious of the reason behind why he shook his legs and twisted his body even after an unsuccessful lift.

The reason is so huge, even the world’s most powerful leaders will have to pay attention. Yes, all of them; every member country sitting in the huge hall of the United Nations; every developed or developing economy of the world.

Because Katoatau – the 2014 Commonwealth Games Gold medallist – might not be there in the near future to lift weights at any event. No, his health is fine! The reason is something else.




The reason is that his country might disappear from the face of Earth in a few years.

Kiribati is a chain of islands in the Central Pacific Ocean. With just around a lakh strong, half of Kiribati’s population lives on the Tarawa Atoll. Kiribati is tiny by all standards but the island chain has its own culture, tradition and history that includes a significant chapter of World War II.



Location of Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean. Google Maps

Location of Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean. Google Maps

But everything – every single tree, every sun-kissed beach, and the welcoming people – will one day be engulfed by the sea. And that is the problem which Katoatau wants the world to take notice of.

So in 2015 Katoatau wrote an open letter addressing the greatest threat to his country.

In his letter he literally pleaded before the powerful countries of the world to do something to save his tiny yet beautiful country.




Yet it appears that his open letter went unread by the powerful leaders of the world because the climate change conference held in Paris in November 2015 did not produce the desired result. Though the participating countries ‘promised’ to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and bring the temperature increase to below 2 degree Celsius, the non-binding nature of the Paris Agreement itself has been brought under the scanner by environment experts and activists.

Rising sea levels due to climate change is the threat that stares in the eye of every resident of the Kiribati island chain and every single island in the Pacific or other oceans. The people of Kiribati know that very soon their lands will be under the water and they will become homeless.

There is nothing they can do because as Katoatau says, “Most people don’t know where Kiribati is…we don’t have the resources to save ourselves.”

At Rio, he said that he is dancing because he wants “people to know more about us”.


It appears that there is no hope for the people of Kiribati because of rising waters coupled with international apathy. UNICEF Australia / James Alcock

It appears that there is no hope for the people of Kiribati because of rising waters coupled with international apathy. UNICEF Australia / James Alcock

He highlights how poor Kiribati is:

“Kiribati also lacks the resources for basic sports facilities. There was no gym when I started training as a boy, and there is no gym now. I trained on the beach in the open sun. The bar would become too hot to touch so I had to train at six in the morning.”

In fact rising sea levels destroyed a hut Katoatau built for himself with his prize money.


Nicky Park/EPA/Corbis

Nicky Park/EPA/Corbis


While the whole world and the media is busy celebrating the success of medal-winning Olympians, this singular sportsperson is undoubtedly the greatest of all without winning a single medal for he is fighting to save his country – a country that experts say will be under the sea in the next 14 years – from a threat created by the powerful nations of the world who win countless medals at each Olympics.

Phelps’ record might be broken in the near future. But if climate change continues to happen the way it is, his record will surely won’t be broken by a citizen of Kiribati.

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