13/10/2010 04:09:48
Refugees, migrants make Australia champs
Migrants and refugees, including a Cameroonian who stayed back after the Melbourne Games four years ago, are playing a key role in Australia's gold hunt at the XIX Commonwealth Games.
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Among those adding to the golden glitter of their adopted country were former Cameroon weightlifter Simplice Ribouem, Russian migrants wrestler Ivan Popov, tennis player Anastasia Rodionova and dual gold medallist gymnast Thomas Pichler. Of the 369 members in the Australian contingent, 55 were born in 28 different countries including from Algeria to China to Iran to USA to Zimbabwe. The maximum number of 10 is in athletics.

"I moved to Australia in search of better facilities. As an international athlete, you always want to improve, and for me the best option was to live in Australia," said Ribouem's teammate Daniel Koum, who finished fifth in men's 56kg weightlifting.

The former African champion, who represented Cameroon in the 2006 Games, said initially it was a struggle to live in Australia but now he is settled as fitness expert in a Melbourne gymnasium. "When I arrived to compete for Cameroon at the Melbourne Games I had no plans to stay back. It was during the Games that I decided that I'm not going back. During the early days I stayed with the help of my friends and it was difficult till I got the visa almost two years later. I guess my credentials in sport helped in speeding up the process (on humanitarian grounds)," he said.

Koum, who grew up in Cameroon's commercial capital Douala and played football when Samuel Eto'o was picking up the tricks of the sport, recalled that a total of seven sportspersons, including three weightlifters, stayed back in Australia after the 2006 Games.

The soft-spoken lifter, who was at the weightlifting hall to cheer Australians was happy with the contribution of the refugees.

"Earlier, Australia had no gold in weightlifting. Now one of us has won a gold and that's to the benefit of Australia," said Koum, who, inspired by his father, took up weightlifting while he was in college.

"My family has a lifting background. My father David Matam represented Cameroon and was also the former national coach," said the youngest of nine children.

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