A Tongan swimmer who trains in shark-infested waters to represent his country at the Commonwealth Games yesterday struck a blow for the sport’s minnows with a brave effort.
As superstars Mack Horton and Chad le Clos soaked up the adulation of the Gold Coast crowd, 17-year-old Finau Ohuafi’s fourth place in his 50m butterfly heat went completely unnoticed.
However, the teenager’s brave performance was all the more remarkable given the parlous state of swimming in Tonga.
“I’m not used to swimming in pools,” Ohuafi told reporters after finishing 50th of 54 — more than four seconds behind Le Clos over one lap. “We don’t have pools in Tonga. There is a 25m pool at a hotel where we go to train, but we swim in the sea. It’s difficult, because you don’t have starting blocks.”
Ohuafi, who chose swimming over rugby when he was 11, revealed that he has been spooked by sharks off the Pacific island when he trains.
“For me, it’s nice to swim in the sea, but one time me and my cousin were training we saw a shark,” Ohuafi said after making his Commonwealth Games debut. “We had just done our warm-up and my cousin tapped me on the leg to warn me. I looked down and saw it. We were so scared, because we were stuck between the open sea and the reef.”
The boys escaped by clambering onto the coral, said Ohuafi, who is also to contest the 50m freestyle and 50m backstroke.
While local fans roared on the Aussie swimmers, one of the loudest cheers of the day was reserved for Samoa’s Alania Suttie, who splashed home a distant last in her 400m individual medley heat.
As she turned for home more than a lap behind, a ripple of applause from the crowd soon turned into roars of encouragement.
Her eventual time was a whopping 45.77 seconds behind that of Scotland’s Hannah Miley.
However, the reaction of the crowd brought back fond memories of Equatorial Guinea’s Eric “The Eel” Moussambani, who clung for dear life to the lane rope at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in his first dip in a 50m pool.
While the likes of Moussambani are rarer these days, for swimmers from some Commonwealth countries, simply appearing at the event is a staggering achievement in itself.
“When I was a little kid I used to love the water, but I got really sick from it,” Suttie said. “I was diagnosed with typhoid after drinking dirty water back in Samoa. For me to get over my fears, I had to keep getting back in.”
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