Tiny Island Nation Finds Olympic Pride In Weightlifter

Nauru, the smallest nation at the Olympics, did itself proud in weight lifting. Itte Detenamo was one of two competitors from his country and finished fourteenth in his category.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The Olympics are winding down, and for some nations, they're already over. Among them, the small Pacific island nation of Nauru. With roughly 9,300 people, it is the least populous country competing in these games. NPR's Mike Pesca says for the Nauruvians that's a point of pride.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Nauru is small. How small? Remember this song?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMALL TOWN")

JOHN COUGAR MELLENCAMP: (Singing) But I've seen it all in a small town. Had myself a ball in a small town.

PESCA: Well, the small town John Cougar Mellencamp is from - Seymour, Indiana - has more than double the population of Nauru. After the weightlifting meet concluded, lifter Itte Detenamo stood talking to his coach, his delegation's president and another two Nauruvians. Those five constituted the same proportion of their homeland's population as do 150,000 Americans. Picture in a small foyer tucked beside the Olympic weightlifting venue the entire population of Dayton, Ohio. Come Olympic time, interest in Nauru is disproportionate to its size, says the head of Nauru's Olympic committee, Marcus Stephen.

MARCUS STEPHEN: There's a lot of interest from everybody around the word. They like to know who the smallest country is and how many athletes they have and what's their place like, and it's massive.

PESCA: Stephen also happens to be the greatest weightlifter Nauru has ever produced. That's saying something, probably saying even more than the fact that Stephen is also a former president of Nauru. Stephen competed in three Olympics and competed well. He never medaled but did win several golds in the Commonwealth Games and put Nauru on the map, in some cases literally. Joanna Olsson is a member of the Nauruvian media, actually she is the Nauruvian media covering these games.

JOANNA OLSSON: When they started seeing the weightlifters coming out of Nauru, it started to spread, and it become big in the whole Pacific, so everyone wanted to be a weightlifter.

PESCA: These Olympics, Detenamo didn't win, but he did beat competitors from such larger than a community college countries as Australia and Germany. Detenamo is a soft-spoken guy who was disappointed in his performance but proud of being Nauruvian.

ITTE DETENAMO: I've been to a lot, Europe, Asia, America. I've been everywhere. Them being larger is OK. Nauru, it's my home.

PESCA: One last fact about the weightlifter from Nauru - the small island whose population couldn't fill up the ballpark of the Milwaukee Brewers' AA affiliate - Detenamo lifted a combined 390 kilos. That's 860 pounds, and it's more than any American lifted in Olympic trials this year. Mike Pesca, NPR News, London.

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