The Cook Islands have claimed their first ever medal at a Commonwealth Games after defeating Malta 17-11 in the bronze medal match of the Men’s Pairs in Lawn Bowls.
The historic moment has a special link to Griffith University, a connection which may pave the way to further sporting triumphs for Oceania athletes in the future.
Taiki Paniani, one half of the winning team, has been part of an innovative program developed and rolled out by Griffith University to give athletes from Pacific Commonwealth nations and territories access to sports experts and facilities not readily available in their home land.
Taiki participated in the GAPS (Gather Adjust Prepare Sustain) Program on three occasions in the build up to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Most recently the 21-year-old was among a group of able-bodied and para-athletes athletes from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Niue to participate in the program at the end of January.
“It is wonderful to see the influence and impact of the GAPS program at work already,” Duncan Free OAM (left), Director of Griffith Sports College, said.
“This result for Taiki and the Cook Islands team will be an inspiration to other talented athletes throughout Oceania to try and emulate their remarkable achievement.”
Through the GAPS Program, individual athletes had the opportunity for self-improvement under the guidance of some leading Griffith researchers in disciplines like exercise science, sport technology, nutrition and sport psychology.
With victories over England, Botswana, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and then South Africa in the quarter-finals, the Cook Islands’ achievement was clearly more than a once-off. Taiki and teammate Aidan Zittersteijn were only knocked out by the eventual gold medal winners, Wales.
The GAPS Program has been a key part of Griffith University’s world-first partnership with the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, and informed a new Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) called Major Sport Events: Winning through Diversity and Inclusion developed with FutureLearn.
The GAPS program is funded by the Commonwealth Games Federation, Menzies Health Institute Queensland, and City of Gold Coast.