Katoatau saw the house he built for his parents destroyed in a cyclone several years ago, and he came up with the routine – first performed at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, where he won Kiribati’s first ever major title – in order to raise awareness of the threat climate change poses to his remote Pacific nation.
On 16 August, performing for the last time at Rio 2016, Katoatau got more cheers than any other lifter, including a Brazilian, throughout the men's 105kg B Group. He also caused a sensation during the Opening Ceremony where, as Kiribati's flagbearer, he broke into his dance routine. Kiribati, located in the Central Pacific, is suffering extreme coastal erosion of its beaches and even inlying land areas according to its government. Some scientists have predicted that this will have a catastrophic effect on Kiribati's 21 inhabited islands.
“Most people don't know where Kiribati is,” says the 32-year-old Katoatau. "I want people to know more about us so I use weightlifting, and my dancing, to show the world. I wrote an open letter to the world last year to tell people about all the homes lost to rising sea levels. I don't know how many years it will be before it sinks. We don't have the resources to save ourselves,” Katoatau said.
Kiribati says that he and other athletes also lack even the most basic of facilities to train. “There was no gym when I started training as a boy, and there is no gym now,” adds Katoatau. “I trained on the beach in the open sun. The bar would become too hot to touch so I had to train at six in the morning.”
Katoatau moved to the Oceania Weightlifting Institute when he was 16 and has been coached by Coffa since then. He now lives and trains at the Institute in Noumea, New Caledonia in the South Pacific.
Katoatau, who finished 15th in his 2008 Olympic debut, came in sixth in the B Group in Rio with 349kg, one kilogramme more than his gold medal winning effort at the Commonwealth Gamest. He made his first five lifts but failed with the last one. He kissed the bar and danced off stage, to the cheers of the crowd. “I'll be dancing again tonight,” he said.
Looking to the future, Katoatau already has a coaching certificate and intends to focus on helping others follow in his footsteps once his lifting days are over. For now, though, his next target is to defend his Commonwealth title in 2018.