HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 608: 21 March 2012

Olympic Report > Cook Islands Aquatic team goes with the flow
By David Blackmore -31 July 2012

David is a freelance writer who has spent much time in the South Pacific Islands including 3 visits to the Cook Islands.

Seven years ago in Singapore it was announced that the 2012 Olympic Games would be hosted in London. This in itself made history as the first city to stage a third summer Olympic Games; 1908, 1948 and now.
In addition, London 2012 also marks a significant achievement for the Cook Islands with 8 athletes competing in multiple codes, one of the newest disciplines for the Cook Islands being aquatics (swimming). Yesterday I went up to the Olympic Village to talk to Zachary Tepaia Payne, Celeste Brown and their team manager Romani Katoa.
Siniva Marsters greeted me at the International Plaza, a flagpole extravaganza of an entrance way to the Olympic village where most of the athletes are accommodated. Siniva an accomplished athlete in hammer throwing, and now CISNOC’s administrator is no stranger to big competition having competed in Commonwealth Games and World Championships.
Passing a “Go Cook Islands” poster we made our way to the team’s accommodation. There I first spoke to Romani Katoa.
“The facilities here are excellent” he said praising the access to Eton Manor, the aquatics centre training pools and also the physiotherapists provided by the Olympic organisation. Considering there is at present no swimming pool available for Cook Island athletes in Rarotonga it is even more of an achievement to take part in the Olympic Games. “Zac and Celeste have been training in Australia, New Zealand and Florida and both of them have been making significant improvements and gaining maturity with their ever increasing experience” he went on to say. Since 2010 both Zac and Celeste have been representing the Cook Islands in major events worldwide. Their progress bodes well for the future of the sport in the Cooks, and with the support of Hugh Dokter, their coach, and Romani Katoa, manager, they are all hoping that the Olympics will be a springboard to further success and development of the sport in the islands. They will be role models for future generations and hopefully once funding is secured salt water pool will be constructed in Avarua.
Zac Payne, 18 years old and Celeste Brown, 17, entered the room very relaxed having already completed their morning training sessions. They now live in Auckland CBD and Sydney Northshore, respectively. The training is geared to their race times events for synchronicity, while their diets and sleep patterns are also part of the regime. Both originally from Nikao, they now have the world as their oyster. Celeste will be going to university in Oahu, Hawaii to study sports and sports management this September. Her passions are swimming, education and church. She speaks of the importance of the Church of Later Day Saints in her life and aspires to follow in her brothers footsteps and undertake a mission at some point. Zac meanwhile deferred his university place in Auckland, to study business and law, to be able to focus on the Olympics. He spoke of his interest in travelling the world and also in food and a desire to become a chef. Certainly with all the international friends met through competition, this will become a reality outside of the sporting events. Zacs’ role model is Ryan Lochte, who he competed against in the 100m individual medley in the 2010 World Championships in Dubai. While for Celeste a lot of her motivation comes from her family. They are both incredibly proud to represent their country and have amassed souvenirs and newspaper clippings along the way.
Swimming techniques are obviously extremely important. Zac watches Utube a lot to study stroke rate, kick, glide, hand position and breathing of other competitors. Underwater swimming helps to build up lung capacity, while incremental improvements shave off hundredths and tenths of a second. Swimming style is also individual and intuitive though. They both have above average reaction times of about .6 or .7 of a second. Anything under .4 in events is considered a false start. Celeste is looking at improving her kick while for Zac it is the arm stroke, trying to reach further for a bigger pull against the water.
Any new personal best for either of them is automatically a new Cook Island record. So watch out as they both aim to use the Olympic heats to do just that.
The new carbon fibre swim suits they have are only good to use 2 or 3 times in the pool before they lose their strategic advantage of less friction in the water. Celeste said it took her an hour and a half to put her new suit on the first time! Fortunately after this it gets easier.
The Olympic pool itself is designed for faster times. The design minimises the refraction of water as does the use of special materials used in construction.
After the Olympics the quest continues with the World short course (25m pool) Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, in December 2012 and the long course (50m pool) World Championships in Barcelona. “What about Rio in 2016” I ask “Definitely” comes the reply in unison.
All the athletes and support staff enjoy the camaraderie and friendly easy going atmosphere at the Olympic venues and village. They rub shoulders with worldwide famous athletes such as Usain Bolt, Kobe Bryant, Serena and Venus Williams and many more.
While relaxing, like any other young adults, Zac and Celeste log into their Facebook pages to keep in touch with their friends. They also enjoy following other events in the pool; Zac was off to see his friend compete in the 200m butterfly semi finals that night, while Celeste was getting her nails done with the Cook Island flag later that afternoon.
Outside of the competition the Olympic opening ceremony was a highlight for everyone in the whole team. Zac spoke of the surreal moment of walking into the stadium. “Then it really sank in, I am really here at the Olympics” he said.
The lighting of the flame and the procession of the 204 world teams all made a big impression with lighter moments of comedy by Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson) and various music segments also being popular.
Music indeed is a world language in itself, and both Zac and Celeste listen to favourite tunes just before competing to relax and focus. Celeste laughed as she recalled one anecdote from the opening ceremony when Paul McCartney started playing “Hey Jude”; Zac pointed and shouted with excitement “ It’s John Lennon”
While a few of the team may miss the food from Oceania, all is well at team base Cook Islands. The message for all back home is simple and heartfelt, that it is an honour and privilege to be at the London Olympics, and they are proud to be representing their great, small nation. The Olympic spirit is alive and thriving, its strength is palpable and transcends all. The World has come together, it is something to make us all proud.


Herald Issue 608 21 March
- Terms of one China Policy document should be reviewed
- Pacific Media Assistance Scheme Seeks Innovation
- Successful NZ visit by PM
- Rerekura Teaurere New Climate Change Coordinator
- News Briefs

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