Nauru's lone rep does the Pacific nation proud, taking home gold, silver and bronze medals
(Photos: Joyce McClure)
Colonia, Yap. Jonah Harris is only 19 years old but the eyes of his nation are on him as he competes in the 2018 Micronesian Games in Yap, as the only athlete representing Nauru. He’s bringing home two gold, two silver and one bronze medal in the long jump, 100 and 200 meter sprints, high jump and triple jump. Quite a feat for someone who discovered athletics less than three years ago. Since then, he has competed in Australia, Great Britain and, just last week, Finland. Next up is the Pacific Games in 2019 and, if he does well enough in the qualifying rounds, the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.
Expecting to join his teammates in Yap, three days before the start of the Games on July 15th, a letter arrived from the Nauru National Olympic Committee addressed to the Micro Games Organizing Committee announcing that the organization had to pull out due to the expense. The government had decided the $300,000 cost of flying their delegation to Yap was too much. The small nation needed the money for other things. With 55 athletes expected, it was a disappointment to everyone in Nauru and the other 9 Micronesian islands that compete in the Micro Games.
Jonah was in Finland when the decision was made. He had just competed in the World Juniors Under Twenty competition. As he was boarding the plane to fly to Yap, his family called to tell him the news. Suddenly he was under more pressure than ever before as the only representative of Nauru to participate in the Micro Games. Since his ticket had already been purchased, he was allowed to continue on alone.
“The Micro Games are our Olympics,” Jonah said when asked why he decided to come to the quadrennial event anyway. “I was too young to compete the last time,” he added, since athletes must be at least 18 years of age to participate.
The recent high school graduate was active in team sports during his earlier school years, usually as the winger. Realizing how fast and agile he was in that position, he decided to try athletics. His father had been a sprinter back in Nauru but none of Jonah’s five siblings participated in sports. It was then that he found his passion in athletics and has been racking up achievements ever since.
For someone so young, Jonah is poised and confident. His family has lived in Fiji and is now living in Brisbane where Jonah spent his high school years. His mother is the Nauru Consul General and his father is a civil engineer, the profession that Jonah intends to pursue when he begins college. “I want to go back home to Nauru and give something back since it has been so good to me,” he said. Civil engineering will provide that opportunity to help the country of approximately 10,000 residents develop. So far he has received scholarship offers in athletics and civil engineering at a university in Brisbane, but he’s taking a gap year to do whatever he enjoys. Right now that’s athletics.
“I never thought this would happen,” Jonah says when talking about the highlights of his new-found athletics career. “But that’s the beauty of athletics. It’s all about the underdog and who wants to win more. I want to make my country proud.”
Seven weeks ago, Jonah thought he might not be able to compete in Finland or in Yap after pulling a hamstring. His coach was not expecting him to perform very well. But with six weeks of physical therapy and determination, he not only made both events but excelled. And now he has new friends and fans in Yap and throughout Micronesia who will be watching and cheering from the bleachers as he continues on toward Olympic gold. He felt alone when he boarded that plane in Finland after learning the rest of the Nauru team would not be here. But as he prepares to leave, he is not alone anymore.