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Solitary man: Weightlifter goes solo at ceremony

Aug. 08, 2008, 12:17 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Itte Detenamo marched into National Stadium, one arm waving, the other proudly presenting the blue-and-yellow colors of his country. He was a solitary athlete enveloped by the massive delegations on the sports world's biggest stage.

Only he wasn't alone.

Following the massive weightlifter every step of the way were the 10,000 people of the tiny island nation Nauru, guiding their one-man Olympic delegation through the crowds at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games on Friday night.

"I just have the feeling they're with me all the way," Detenamo said. "It's all right. I know that they're all backing me up. They're all with me."

Nauru is the world's smallest independent republic, a 21-square-mile speck of coral 26 miles south of the equator, about halfway between Hawaii and Australia. The Micronesian island was occupied by Japan during World War II, then became a United Nations Trust Territory under Australia before gaining independence in 1968.

Surrounded by a reef, Nauru has rugged beaches and a central plateau dotted with coral spires.

There's no capital - the only independent republic in the world without one - just a handful of food and clothing shops, and an airstrip barely long enough to land a radio-controlled plane.

Want to go around the entire island? Better put aside 20 minutes.

Yes, it's the kind of place where everyone knows each other. When Detenamo waved Nauru's flag at the Olympics, it was kind of a big deal.

While not everyone has a TV in Nauru and the warm weather - temperatures in the mid-80s and exceptionally humid this week - may knock the power out for a spell, there's a good chance all 10,000 Nauruans will take time from fishing and hunting small black birds called "naughty birds" to see Detenamo wave the country's colors.

"I reckon they'll be watching," said Detenamo, his tone the understated antithesis of his menacing-looking 5-foot-11, 300-plus-pound frame.

Detenamo got into weightlifting at age 10, following in the footsteps of his brother, one of nine siblings. He was good enough by 17 to qualify for the 2004 Athens Games, finishing 14th in the super heavyweight division, then took bronze at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and three golds at last year's South Pacific games.

Nauru only qualified one lifter for the Beijing Games at the Oceania Olympic qualification event earlier this year, and the country's Olympic committee voted to send Detenamo instead of 77-kilogram lifter Yukio Peter after a field test.

So after sharing duties with two other Nauruan athletes four years ago, Detenamo was left to represent his country alone in front of the 91,000 fans and world leaders inside National Stadium with billions more watching on television. Five non-athlete countrymen walked with him, perhaps to keep him from feeling too lonely.

Though he didn't carry the flag in Athens, the experience helped this time around, jittery nerves replaced by the calm that comes with having been through it before.

"I think it (Athens) was a good experience, something I had never seen before," Detenamo said. "Now, I'm not nervous like before. It's normal for me now."

It showed.

Detenamo strode confidently into the stadium as the 186th of 204 delegations, sweat pouring down the sides of his face, his tan blazer and blue slacks stifling in Beijing's oppressive humidity. The crowd barely acknowledged his entrance, still excited from seeing Swiss tennis star Roger Federer and buzzing in anticipation of China's entrance.

The $300 million extravaganza of fireworks, illuminated costumes and acrobats nearly over, the huge Detenamo became a tiny blot in sea of 16,000 athletes, barely noticeable next to the nearly 600 red-clad China delegation.

He didn't care.

This was his moment, a chance to shine in the eyes of his countrymen, to walk in front of the world with the support of an entire nation.

"I don't know how to really how to describe it," he said.

The theme of the Beijing Games is "One World, One Dream." In Detenamo's case, it should say "One Man, One Country" as well.

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