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Commonwealth Games 2022: Nauru, world's smallest Olympic country, continues medal-winning trend

How do Nauru, a little country which has a population that is 0.0000072 parts of India's population, consistently churn out medals? The answer may lie in its identity as Australia's 'dumping ground' for refugees.

Commonwealth Games 2022: Nauru, worlds smallest Olympic country, continues medal-winning trend

Maximina Uepa won the only medal for Nauru at the 2022 CWG in weightlifting. 


Atharv Phadke

Updated: 8 Aug 2022 4:42 AM GMT

Nauru, the world's smallest island nation, with a population of 10,384 people, is known primarily as Australia's 'dumping ground for refugees' who arrive by boat seeking asylum. But in the world of sports, it has a different identity - as a weightlifting powerhouse.

True to tradition, Nauru, which has one Commonwealth Games medal for roughly 450 citizens to show, also won a medal in the 2022 CWG as Maximina Uepa won the bronze medal in the 76kg women's weightlifting final. India's Punam Yadav was set to win a medal in this category, but three failed lifts by her in the Clean and Jerk section pushed the Nauruan into the medal spots.

How do Nauru, a little country which covers an area of 21 square kilometres, the third smallest country in the world after Vatican City and Monaco, with a population that is 0.0000072 parts of India's population, consistently churn out medals at every CWG?

The answer to this may lie in Nauru's identity as Australia's 'dumping ground' and how the country has funnelled this into the sport of weightlifting. The revenue that Nauru gets from Australia's 'offshore processing' of asylum-seekers is put into weightlifting centres. For the general population of the island nation, working at weightlifting centres is a means of getting employment. Around a thousand people - one tenth of the country's population - work at such centres.

Nauru's medal run

Formerly known as Pleasant island, Nauru's 30 CWG medal streak goes back to the 1982 Auckland Games, where they made their debut. Since the 1990 edition, when they sent a single representative to Auckland, they have won at least one medal on each occasion.

Marcus Stephen, the Nauruan weightlifter, made history in Auckland's arena as he grabbed the country's first-ever medal at the CWG. Over the next few editions, Stephen became a world champion in his category and a national hero. He brought home two silver and one gold medal in the subsequent CWG editions.

Such was his stardom in Nauru that he managed to successfully contest elections once he retired in 2006, being the President of the country from 2007 to 2011.

Stephen's success also meant a larger representation for Nauru in the CWG and Olympics in the '90s and 2000s. In 1998, there were seven athletes from Nauru in the CWG, six of them in weightlifting.

Four years later, 'Pleasant Island' introduced contestants in the women's category for the first time. In an unprecedented medal haul, they walked out of the 2022 CWG with 15 medals, with the women winning 10 of the 15.

Nauru has not been able to repeat the miraculous show from the 2002 edition since then, but they have been able to win at least one in every CWG edition.

The Olympics podium has remained a bridge too far for Nauru. The closest they got was an 8th place finish by Yukio Peter in the 2004 Summer Olympics.

But the lesson Nauru's consistent medal haul teaches is that no matter how low resources or training facilities are, if there is focus on a certain discipline, there can be miraculous results.

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