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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 August, 2004, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Kiribati's Olympic adventure
By Andrew Fraser
BBC Sport

Kiribati's Millennium Island
The athletes in Kiribati have eight or nine pairs of track shoes between them
Kiribati's Olympic attache
Rosemary Mula
Much of the talk surrounding the British Olympic team in the build-up to Athens has focused on the number of medals they are likely to win.

But for some nations, the taking part really is all that matters.

Kiribati - pronounced Kee-ree-bus - will become the newest member of the Olympic family when it sends three athletes to Greece.

If you keep your eyes peeled during the opening ceremony, you might just catch a glimpse of the Pacific nation's seven-strong delegation.

They will be the tiny band sandwiched between Kenya and Korea, carrying a flag adorned with a big golden sun and a frigate bird.

Kiribati, a collection of coral atolls with a population of about 84,000, was the first inhabited place on earth to see in the new Millennium as it sits right on the International Date Line.

But it is such a latecomer to the Olympic game that it did not even finalise its team for Athens until a couple of weeks before the opening ceremony.

The selectors were hit by the late withdrawal of their two track and field athletes.

One broke his foot and the other decided her fear of flying outweighed her desire to compete in front of a global audience.

The whole nation is absolutely buzzing
Sprinters Kakianako Nariki and Kaitinano Mwemweata have taken their places, joining weightlifter Meamea Thomas.

Kiribati's British-born Olympic attache Rosemary Mula has found the task of propelling the nation on to the Olympic stage a challenging but rewarding experience.

A protocol co-ordinator at the athletes' village in Sydney four years ago, she helped guide Kiribati through the International Olympic Committee's application process.

"The whole nation is absolutely buzzing," she told BBC Sport.

"They are so thrilled that they are going to the Olympics and will be the newest nation to compete.

"Many of them have little understanding of the magnitude of the Olympics, or even of the world outside of Kiribati.

"The athletes in Kiribati have about eight or nine pairs of track shoes between them and they rotate them for training."

Mula, who was born in Hertfordshire but moved to Australia, has also been co-ordinating Kiribati's fundraising effort.

The sale of Olympic pins over the internet has helped provide money for kit, but only their basic needs can be met.

Kiribati's athletics track, in the capital Tarawa, does not even form a complete oval.

And the plan is to send the sprint duo to Cairns in Australia, where they will learn how to use starting blocks with a view to competing in the 100m.

Their story evokes memories of swimmer Eric "The Eel" Moussambani, who helped put Equatorial Guinea on the map in Sydney with his painfully slow performance in the pool.

Kiribati supporters David and Shirley Parker with their sons Colin and Paul
Kiribati has mustered support from as far away as Hertfordshire
But Kiribati's Olympic attache is confident her charges will not leave themselves open to ridicule in Athens.

Weightlifter Thomas - ranked 63 in the world - won the 85kg category at last year's South Pacific Games, and the fact that the other two are likely to run in the 100m leaves less room for embarrassment.

Having brought Kiribati to the Games, the next problem will be bringing the Games to Kiribati.

It is hoped that the Australia High Commission will provide video footage which can be shown in the large meeting huts dotted around the islands.

And Mula's family and friends have promised to make sure there will be plenty of Kiribati flags flying in Athens.

She admitted: "It will be one of the proudest moments of my life when I walk out with the team for the opening ceremony.

"And I'm sure my husband Wilfred will have tears streaming down his face."

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