Pristine and remote – welcome to the pacific ocean. A map will barely show a dot for most nations, and to most of the world, they are unknown. However, at the Olympics, every nation is given a chance, a moment to shine. An incredibly symbolic and united message that genuinely captures the Olympic ethos.
“Imagine an opening ceremony without the ‘oiled up Tongan’ or our incredible Solomon Islands, Nauru, Samoan, and Tuvalu Athletes in traditional dress.”
In normal circumstances, logistics can be a complex task within the pacific, throw in a Pandemic, with commercial passenger flights to and from Pacific nations almost non-existent. Getting athletes to Tokyo became a Marathon in itself.
Oceania Athletics spoke with Marathon Athlete Sharon FIRISUA (Solomon Islands) about her journey to Tokyo.
Initially, we had concerns as to whether or not we would be going. Our options quickly closed up with our Asian neighbours shutting their borders and not enough time to quarantine in Australia or New Zealand. Fortunately, at the 11th hour, the IOC offered a sanctioned chartered flight to Tokyo. Athletes and officials from Kiribati, Nauru, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu were incredibly thankful. Without it, it would have meant many of our pacific nations were not in attendance.
“It was a milk run around the islands to collect everyone.”
The journey started in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. The first leg was a 1hr 40mins flight to Nauru, followed by an overnight stay in the Budapest Hotel. Other athletes from Kiribati and Tuvalu also arrived in Nauru. Then it was an early start to fly from Nauru to the Federated States of Micronesia (2hrs 40mins) followed by a refuelling stop of 30mins. The final leg was FSM to Tokyo (4hrs 40mins).
“I was incredibly grateful to be allowed to get to Tokyo safely. It was a great adventure, and due to COVID-19 rules, I felt like a celebrity with a private jet.” Sharon FIRISUA (Solomon Islands)
The Fiji teams were initially expected to fly directly from Australia to Tokyo, but plans were changed at the last minute due to new COVID-19-related restrictions in Asia. The 2016 gold medal Rugby 7s team and other athletes, including sprinter Banuve Tabakaucoro, the only option was the cargo/freight flight, hauling mostly frozen fish.
The safe and prompt arrival enable many of our athletes to be the flag bearers for their respective nations.