Athletes from across the Pacific have gathered at the Gold Coast for an intensive week-long training opportunity based at Griffith University ahead of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
The GAPS program offers emerging Pacific athletes and coaches’ access to additional skills, knowledge, and resources with the aim of advancing education and supporting the development of inclusive sport pathways that promotes positive social change in sport and communities.
The 47 Commonwealth Games bound athletes and coaches come from 10 Pacific nations, including the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Norfolk Island, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu and will represent their countries in the sports of Beach Volleyball, Weightlifting, Athletics and Lawn Bowls.
GAPS (Gather, Adjust, Prepare, Sustain) was developed by Griffith University and the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), with support from PacificAusSports in the lead up to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. It helped Pacific athletes win five medals, including inaugural Commonwealth Games medals for the Cook Islands and Vanuatu.
“Griffith University is proud to continue its leadership with the GAPS program in supporting these athletes to train and prepare for the 2022 Games,” Griffith University Associate Professor Clare Minahan said.
“This is a really valuable collaboration that proved its worth in 2018 when we saw medals achieved for the very first time for Vanuatu (beach volleyball) and Cook Islands (lawn bowls).”
“These athletes have the natural talent but often face significant hurdles in accessing best practice coaching and skills development, so we take our role seriously in providing development opportunities otherwise unavailable to them.
“They’re incredibly grateful. They’re enthusiastic, they interact with the coaches, they of course, have their own coaches with them and they’re learning as well.
“The environment we’re putting them in is one of high performance, and a Pacific family friendly environment. We’re welcoming them and really supporting them to be the best that they can be.
“This week’s activities cover everything from training techniques, nutrition, injury treatment, testing, resilience and mental health support, all of which will go a long way to ensuring these athletes are well prepared for the upcoming Games.”
Champion Lawn Bowls coach Geoff Maskell helped the Cook Islands achieve its first medal, a Bronze, in 2018. He’s back in 2022, again working with Cook Islands athletes and their Pacific neighbours.
“The GAPS program helps Pacific nations to not just compete at Commonwealth Games, but to be competitive, to help them gain the techniques, the strengths, the all the things that are needed to help people to improve across a variety of sports,” he said.
“When the Cook Islands won their first ever medal in any Commonwealth Games in any sport, it was in bowls and it was a 19 year old and a 21 year old. You can imagine how they were treated when they went home – they were treated like royalty.”
This year he’s helping Cook Islands sisters Emil and Tiare Jim reach their best. Both in their early 20’s, the pair from Raratonga are hoping for better than Bronze this time.
“If we can go a step further and get gold that would be amazing for us,” Emily said.
“This camp has been very exciting, for the whole team. We’re here preparing ourselves and everyone is in high spirits.”
The Gold Coast camp follows a highly successful GAPS opportunity in Birmingham in April for over 100 athletes and coaches from 20 Commonwealth nations. The Pacific region was represented by 25 athletes from four nations. The Birmingham Camp had a particular focus on para-athletes in their qualification and classification for the Games.
Griffith Business School’s Professor Caitlin Byrne, also a member of the Australian Government’s Sports Diplomacy Advisory Council, said GAPS was an important opportunity for the University to deepen ties with its Pacific neighbourhood.
“The program enables Pacific island athletes and coaches to reach their potential, be competitive on the world stage, and develop as leaders and positive role models for their communities over the long term,” Professor Byrne said.
“This is sports diplomacy in action.”
The 2022 GAPS opportunities on the Gold Coast and in Birmingham also provided the chance for Griffith undergraduate and PhD students to be involved in co-ordinating camp activities,” Dr Caroline Riot, Sport Management senior lecturer and GAPS Birmingham 2022 research lead said.
“This unique experience in the high performance sport environment will advance their employability, prepare them for the future of work and enrich their understanding of inclusion and diversity.”
Over 350 athletes from the Pacific will compete in the 2022 Commonwealth Games, starting 28 July in Birmingham.