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Oceania delighted by first appearance at AIMAG

27 Sep 2017
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, September 27, 2017: Athletes and officials from Oceania have been united in declaring their participation at the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) an historic and successful moment for sports in their region, saying the experience will benefit their competitors for years to come.

A total of 19 Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC) accepted invitations from the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) to send teams to Ashgabat. Because Oceania covers such a large and sometimes remote region, it can often take up to two days, and great expense, for their athletes to travel to overseas competition.

But thanks to the generosity of the Turkmenistan organising committee, which covered the costs of teams travelling to the AIMAG, a combined total of around 250 athletes from Oceania got a unique chance to compete against the best from Asia in 11 different sports.

‘We really have to thank the Turkmenistan Organising Committee and the Olympic Council of Asia,” said Lorraine Mar, the Secretary General and CEO of the Fiji National Olympic Committee. “Our athletes that competed in these facilities were able to raise their own standards because we don’t have these kind of facilities in Fiji.

“It’s been a really good initiative to create greater co-operation between Oceania and Asia and if more of that could happen, it would be a great.” Terry Sasser, the Secretary General of the Marshall Islands National Olympic Committee, said there had been multiple benefits for the Oceania athletes that competed at the AIMAG.

“We came here for the competition because we don’t get it much in the Pacific. It’s very difficult to travel logistically,” he said. “And obviously the facilities and the hospitality and organisation is as good as you can get. This is at an Olympic quality level and they could host an Olympics tomorrow with what they have here.”

Australian officials said the AIMAG provided a rare opportunity for its athletes to compete against Asia athletes in sports that are still developing in their homeland, particularly martial arts. “The whole experience has been incredible for our athletes.

The opportunity to gain more international exposure and to compete against athletes of such a high caliber was a great learning experience for the team and will benefit them in the long run as they look to future Games,” said John Saul, the Australian team Chef de Mission.

“They have learnt so much and really appreciated the opportunities to train and compete in state of the art venues and facilities. They all really enjoyed the village life and met many new friends from Australia and other countries in sports outside their own.” The OCA and ONOC have been working together to foster more competition and co-operation between the two regions and the initiative is now bearing fruit.

Oceania were first invited by the OCA to compete at the 8th Asian Winter Games, held in Sapporo, Japan in February, but were ineligible to win medals. But they were allowed to compete for medals at the AIMAG and four countries succeeded in making it on the podium. Fijian teenager Eileen Cikamantana won Oceania’s first gold medal, in weightlifting.

Her countryman Apolonia Vaivai won silver in weightlifting, as did Mathlynn Sasser of the Marshall Islands, who showed off her incredible strength in one lift by standing on one leg. Keshena Waterford and Ruth Hock each won bronze medals for Australia in Tae kwondo while Iuniarra Sipaia won bronze for Samoa in weightlifting.

Samoan sprinter Jeremy Dodson said the chance to compete at the AIMAG would provide a lasting legacy for Oceania athletes. “Our participation in Ashgabat 2017 is way better than anything that has happened to athletics in Oceania in a long, long time," said Dodson. "Usually, we do not get to step much out of our region other than during the IAAF Worlds or Olympic Games. The experience of competing against Asian athletes is going to help us improve tremendously."

Federated States of Micronesia sprinter Alvin Martin said all the athletes were amazed at the quality of the facilities in Ashgabat and the cultural experiences they shared with other teams during their stay in Ashgabat.

"This place is like paradise, that’s the only word I can use to describe it,” he said. "The facilities for the athletes at the village and in the training areas are fantastic, even the starting blocks there are brand new. "There are no indoor tracks where we are from so this is the first time we’ve ever trained indoors.
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