Inspiring Islander - David Katoatau
The I-Kiribati weightlifter that has raised awareness on Climate Change in Kiribati through his post-lift dancing.
David Katoatau is a gold medal winning Weightlifter that has represented Kiribati in weightlifting competitions worldwide. He competed at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and also was the national flag bearer at the opening ceremony. In the Olympic tournament he ranked 15th in the 85 kg category.
In 2012, he was the first I-Kiribati ever to qualify on merit for the Olympic Games (rather than receive a wildcard invitation), in any sport. He finished first in the Oceania Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which also made him Commonwealth champion.
As part of Kiribati's delegation at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, he competed in the 94 kg event, and finished 17th with a total lift of 325 kg. He was, again, his country's national flag bearer during the Games' opening ceremony.
At the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games he won gold in the 105 kg group A, the first ever Commonwealth Games medal for Kiribati.
At the 2016 Summer Olympics, with the rise of social media viral videos David became famous through his popular post-lift dances. Win or lose this trailblazing athlete would dance on the stage and as he walked off.
David Katoatau’s dance moves caught the attention of the worldwide Olympic audience. He was so popular at the 2016 Summer Olympics that he made the highlight reel of the overall Olympic games and was interviewed by various media outlets from BBC to Time Magazine.
The dancing caught everyone’s eye but it was the reason behind it that caught everyone’s hearts. David dances to bring attention to his lifts in hopes the world would see the big letters that spell out “Kiribati” across his chest and start to pay attention to his island that is at risk of sinking. The attention-catching moves is Davids innovative way to make a poignant point about climate change – which is destroying the island nation he calls home.
The Climate Crisis that poses an extreme threat to Kiribati has been a passion for the weightliter for many years. In an open letter he wrote a few years back, David Katoatau despaired over the threat climate change posed to his homeland and other low-lying Pacific islands and pleaded for international support to preserve Kiribati. He addressed the letter to the world and used his star power as an Olympic athlete to disperse his message.
In the letter he wrote:
"I have never felt so helpless in my life. As a sportsman I have offered everything to my country but I cannot save it. On behalf of all the people who will die for the country that will no longer exist and for the culture which will long be forgotten, I am asking for your help.
Last year I built myself the only home I could afford—a tebuia, a traditional hut—right next door to my parents. A few months later, it was destroyed by waves. …
The schools I have visited in Kiribati and the thousands of children I have met aspire to be something great. How do I lie to them and say their dreams are possible when our nation is disappearing? I beg the countries of the world to see what is happening to Kiribati. The simple truth is that we do not have the resources to save ourselves.
We will be the first to go."
David inspired many islanders by proving that even if you’re from a small island your voice could reach the world. Most importantly David inspired his fellow Athletes to use their platforms to raise awareness on the issues that are impacting the nations they represent. He joins an iconic list of Athletes that have woven in their sports with their activism, from Naomi Osaka to Colin Kaepernick.