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Wolfgramm says Tonga is ‘dead in the water’

Tuesday 16 August 2016 | Published in Regional

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TONGA – Paea Wolfgramm, the boxer who won Tonga’s only Olympic medal ever – 20 years ago – despairs that it will ever happen again.

He says Tonga is almost “dead in the water” at the Olympics, let down by administrators who have stayed in power for decades, but won’t support the kingdom’s athletes.

Wolfgramm, who won silver for Tonga in the boxing ring at the Olympics in Atlanta in1996, has offered his thoughts on how Tonga might move forward in international competition in an interview with Kaniva Pacific.

And no, he wouldn’t have appeared at the Olympics bare-chested and covered in oil.

KANIVA PACIFIC: Are you sad there has not been a Tongan boxer at the Olympics since Doug Viney in 2004? (Viney represented Tonga as a super heavyweight boxer under the name of Ma’afu Hawke at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.)

“Yes I’m gutted. It is as if Atlanta had never happened. We have continued doing the same thing hoping for a different result. In terms of Olympics we have continued to play it like a lottery where we do the bare minimum for our athletes and hope that our numbers will come up and another Paea Wolfgramm will come along.

“How often do we win the lottery twice? It is the reason why our athletes face change, but our Olympic administrators have stayed the same for the past 20 years. In fact, in my time we struggled a bit but today we are almost dead in the water. It is so sad as we go forward to 2020.

“Since 2006 I have called for TASANOC and the government to create a purposeful rewarding pathway for our athletes to aspire to. I even submitted a paper to them and they listened politely, agreed to it and have done nothing since.”

KANIVA PACIFIC: I am intrigued that you stopped fighting when you did. You had 20 wins and four losses, which was a good record. Did it just get tougher as the fights went on?

“My amateur record was 20-3 and professional record was 20-4. My professional contract was only for five years and at the time I had promised my wife and mother – who weren’t too keen on me taking it up as a career – that I would only fight professionally for that period with no extension whatever the outcome.”

KANIVA PACIFIC: You lost three out of your last five fights, but the referee stopped the last fight in the last round. Whose decision was it to quit? Do you ever regret it?

“I didn’t intend to go pro, but straight after the Olympics I had promoters knocking on my door and it wasn’t an opportunity you get offered every day.

“So I took my chances and it was definitely an experience I will never regret. I’m glad that I had five years of it and came out relatively undamaged as boxing can be an unforgiving sport.”

KANIVA PACIFIC: Have you considered making a comeback?

“As I said, I had promised never to go back after my five year stint and it was not hard for me because I had other things prior to boxing.

“I can understand how some boxers can stay in the game far too long because they have done nothing else. Although I miss some of the people, I have never thought about going back.”

KANIVA PACIFIC: Would you like any of your children to go into the fight game?

“No, I left it up to my kids, but I think they got bored with it as they grew up around it.”

KANIVA PACIFIC: You were the Tongan flag bearer at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996. Did you consider going topless and being covered in oil?

“No, it was never considered. The officials were pretty strict in maintaining the molumalu of our flag. We weren’t even allowed to wear the flag around our shoulders at the fights or other sporting events, but that said, I think Pita (Taufatofua) brought a lot of attention to Tonga.

“I would have liked it if we were recognised for our achievement instead, but I guess that’s where we are at the moment.

- Kaniva Pacific