Lataisi Mwea Kiribati
By Bob Snow
Lataisi Mwea was born on 26 July 2000 in South Tarawa, Kiribati.
Kiribati made its first appearance on the Oceania Athletics scene when it competed (by invitation) in the Oceania Championships in Nuku’alofa in 1998. Kiribati officially joined the IAAF/World Athletics the following year. They have made great strides since then.
With very basic facilities back home, it has been extremely difficult for local athletes to prepare for high level competitions in the Oceania Region and farther afield. Below is a photo of the main track in Kiribati. The photo was taken during an OAA visit in 2017.
Lataisi is a relative newcomer to international Athletics. His main event, the high jump, had been dominated at home by David Birati who was the national record holder. Could Lataisi challenge David’s record?
Lataisi first made his debut in the 2017 Oceania Athletics Championships in Suva, where he cleared 1.80m in the U18 Division. In the same year he came 5th in the Pacific Mini Games with an improvement to 1.91m – competing against senior athletes.
Heading out of the Pacific to the Ashgabat Asian Indoor Games in Turkmenistan, he jumped 1.95m for a new national record.
In 2019 he once again competed in the Oceania Championships in Townsville, where he competed in the U20 Division – clearing 1.88m. Later that year he was part of the Kiribati Team to the Apia Pacific Games. He cleared 1.85m.
In 2019 Lataisi moved to Australia and was based at the OAA High Performance Training Centre on the Gold Coast. He worked initially with coach Phil Newton and soon managed to eclipse his own national record when he jumped 2.00m.
After a change of coach to Leanne Hines Smith, he started competing in the sprinting events. It was a good tactical move. Even though he was his nation’s top athlete as he was never going to be able to go to the Olympics and World Championships as a high jumper. With the universality rules, however, he had a great opportunity to go as a 100m or 200m sprinter.
In early 2021 he set a new Kiribati National Record for the 200m, returning a time of 22.54 seconds in Brisbane, breaking his own record of 22.61 that he had set 3 weeks before. The move to the sprints was paying dividends.
A good 100m time of 11.24 in March of 2021 shows that he is slowly moving to take the national record in the 100m, currently 11.17 seconds, and held by Rabangaki Nawai (set in the Apia Oceania Athletics Championships in 2006).
On 31st July 2021 Lataisi competed in the 100m in the Tokyo Olympic Games recording a time of 11.25 seconds into a slight headwind.
As the Pacific Islands’ sporting scene was slowly emerging from the Covid lock-down, Lataisi continued his sprinting career with participation in the Oceania Athletics Championships in Mackay (11.25 [+1.3] in the 100m and 23.17 [+2.0] in the 200m).
Because of so many competing competitions, Covid restrictions and visa complications, Lataisi did not compete in the 2022 Mini Pacific Games in Saipan.
From Queensland it was across the Pacific to Eugene in Oregon for the World Athletics’ Championships.
In Oregon Lataisi competed in the 100m (11.43 seconds [0.0]) and then it was across the USA and the Atlantic Ocean to Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games where he participated in the 100m – 11.33 (+0.9).
Now the 2022 “big events” are over we will see what events will capture Lataisi’s interest – and the interest of his coaches. Hi best ever performance (using the World Athletics Scoring Tables – 914 points) is his 2.00m in the high jump in 2019.
For big international meets he will have to continue with the short sprints, but for Pacific Islands competitions, his best chance of winning a medal for Kiribati will be in the High Jump if he can regain his 2019 form.
We wait with interest to see the next chapter of the career of Lataisi Mwea, who has come from a nation with little or no sporting infrastructure, to the regional and international Athletics scene. He is an inspiration to all of the athletes who are competing in micro-nations with no well-established sporting infrastructure.
Lataisi has now headed back to Kiribati and OAA is hopeful that he will take everything he has learned in his time at HPTC back to share with others and keep his own training going. If he was to get back to his best with High Jump (2.00m) it is definitely a possible medal. This height would have won a medal at the last three Pacific Games and a medal at every Mini Pacific Games ever held. In 8 of these Mini Games contests, gold was won with 2.00m or less.
His Federation and NOC are really keen for him to give back to others and Lataisi is very keen to do that too. They have always supported his decision to sprint although he has mentioned trying to get all high jump equipment back in country to allow him to jump and coach others.