The Oceania Weightlifting Institute has closed its doors after more
than 18 years operating in the Pacific but plans are already underway to
re-open the facility in Australia.
Paul Coffa established the regional centre in Fiji in 2002 before moving it to Samoa and eventually to New Caledonia, where he has trained Pacific, Oceania and Commonwealth champions for the past 12 years.
The veteran coach was working with 14 lifters in the lead-up to the
Tokyo Olympics before the coronavirus brought everything to a sudden
“In January and February of this year it all started and by April
every country wanted their athletes and their citizens back home and
that was the end of the institute, we had to close it,” he said.
“There was no point staying there, my wife and I and [Fiji-born Commonwealth Games gold medallist] Eileen Cikamatana who is now an Australian citizen.”
Coffa and his wife Lilly – a respected international weightlifting
judge in her own right – waited until all of their athletes had departed
Noumea and remained in solitude for seven weeks until they were able to
get on a flight back to Australia, where they’ve spent the past two
weeks in managed isolation.
“After 26 years [in the Pacific] we packed up our bags and back home again and we start all over again.”
The 78 year old Coffa first took up coaching in 1965 and spent 15
years in charge of the Australian national team before being recruited
to establish the Nauru Olympic Committee and develop the country’s
“In a short four months, with the help of the Nauru Government, I established the Nauru Weightlifting Institute. It was an incredible success, lasting seven years and producing 172 lifters – equating to 1.72 percent of the population of Nauru.”