By PATRICIA KEAMO
JUMPS athlete Rellie Kaputin will get to realise a childhood dream when she competes at this month’s Tokyo Olympics.
Every athlete harbours the hope of one day competing on sport’s largest and grandest stage, the Olympics.
For the 28-year-old, that dream is set to become a reality after she was awarded Papua New Guinea’s only Olympic spot in athletics under the universality rule.
Kaputin is an East New Briton, through and through, with parents from Tinganalom, Kokopo, and Matupit Island, Rabaul.
She started running barefoot in primary school with the dream of one day representing her country at the Olympics.
Kaputin told The National that it was an emotional moment when she received the news of her qualification from World Athletics.
Based in Australia with coach Phillip Newton, Kaputin has been competing in events on the Australian athletics circuit in her lead-up to the Games and recorded her season’s best of 6.42m at the Festival of Athletics in Townsville, Queensland, last month.
Kaputin said she cried and celebrates when she received the news that she had qualified.
“It was an emotional morning (June 21) as I shed tears of joy with Phil’s wife when I received the news,” she said.
“To realise a childhood dream is just amazing.”
Born to parents David and Dorish, Kaputin is the middle child with an elder brother, Shane, and a younger brother, Mesak.
She started her athletics career in track events (100m, 200m, 400m and relays) before switching to jumping.
Kaputin said even then she had thoughts of one day representing the country and wearing the red, black and gold.
“While attending Kokopo Secondary School (2009-2012), I started learning how to do the long, triple and high jumps because I knew making the team in sprints would be hard,” she said.
“So I focused on jumping and got better at it.
“In 2012, Athletics PNG president Tony Green noted my performance during the PNG Games (in Kokopo) and the following year, I started training with the national development squad.”
Kaputin was then identified as a talent worth persisting with and this saw her receive a college scholarship to study business and compete in the United States in 2013.
Shortly after settling into college in Iowa, Kaputin made her debut for PNG at the Pacific Mini Games in Wallis and Futuna.
From left: National jumper Rellie Kaputin (left), Fiji’s Shawntell Lockington
and Tahiti’s Candice Richer during the 2019 Pacific Games high jump medal
presentation in Apia, Samoa. – gamesnewsservicepics
Since then, she has represented PNG at the Pacific Games, Oceania Championships, Melanesian Championships, World Championships and Commonwealth Games, but this will be her first Olympic appearance.
While the East New Britain native has made her mark at the national level and in the Pacific, injury – every athlete’s curse – has seen her miss some international competitions, which she described as personal challenges in her career.
“I first got injured in 2014 and I missed out on my first Commonwealth Games in Scotland,” Kaputin said.
“Then in 2019, I got injured again and missed out on my second World Championships in Doha.
“But giving up was not an option for me, I kept hurdling every obstacle to make it this far.”
Following her most recent injury (a cracked fibula) in August 2019, Kaputin spent almost six months in rehabilitation in Port Moresby before being cleared to resume training in Australia in February last year.
“I thought I had a slim chance of making it to Tokyo because I missed a lot of competitions during my rehabilitation,” she said.
“It was a blessing in disguise when the Olympics were postponed to 2021 as I had 12 months to regain my form.
“Due to travel restrictions, I couldn’t attend big competitions, so I had to attend competitions in Brisbane to earn points for my world ranking (now ranked 61).
“When domestic flights opened in Australia, we managed to attend competitions in Canberra, Sydney and Townsville.”
Kaputin said she had a few more weeks to train – time she will use to work on her speed and strength – before traveling to Tokyo.
When asked who her inspiration was, the jumper said it was her mother and her uncle and former national sprinter and PNG athletics hall of fame inductee Sir John Kaputin.
“Being brought up by a single unemployed mother, the struggles and pain she had to bear through raising me and my brothers were the greatest challenge that drove my determination to being a successful national athlete,” she said.
“I grew up admiring my uncle whom I looked up to as a role model,” she said.
“He inspired me a lot and now I am very proud to bring our family legacy to the Olympic Game.”
Kaputin said she would also dedicate her performance to her aunt Vinnie Keseng.
Kaputin said following the Tokyo Olympics, she would be focusing on upcoming competitions, including the World Championships, Commonwealth Games, Pacific Mini Games and the 2023 Pacific Games.
“I will also try to make the national team for the (2024) Paris Olympics, so I’ve decided to come back to Australia and keep training and maybe pursue further studies for my masters,” she said.
“I had to put my degree aside and focus on being a fulltime athlete to realise my childhood Olympic dream.
“So after Tokyo, I am planning to do my master of business (accounting).”
East New Briton Rellie Kaputin
and coach Phillip Newton after she
won gold in the triple and long
jumps at the 2019 Oceania Champ
ionships in Townsville, Australia.