A 105kg weightlifter from Kiribati gave crowds a charming surprise when he danced off stage following his Olympic Games effort.

But David Katoatau, 32, was dancing to make a poignant point about climate change – which is destroying the Central Pacific island nation he calls home.

Kiribati, which consists of 21 inhabited islands and has a population of just over 100,000 people, is suffering “extreme coastal erosion not just of the beaches but also of the land” according to its government. “Most people don’t know where Kiribati is,” Katoatau, who lost his family’s house in a cyclone, told Reuters. “I want people to know more about us so I use weightlifting, and my dancing, to show the world. We don’t have the resources to save ourselves.”

Katoatau wrote an open letter “to tell people about all the homes lost to rising sea levels”, which was distributed at a Commonwealth Games Federation meeting by his coach, Paul Coffa. His vibrant dance moves became his trademark in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2014, where he won gold in the 105 kg group A – Kiribati’s first ever Commonwealth Games medal.

Despite finishing in sixth place in Rio in the B Group with 349kg, Katoatau kissed the bar and danced off stage regardless, to the cheers of the crowd whom he told “I’ll be dancing again tonight”.


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Write to Kate Samuelson at kate.samuelson@time.com.

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