The last golden man

2002 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Nacanieli Qerewaqa Takayawa with Waisale Serevi during Serevi's book launch at the Holiday Inn, Suva. Picture: JOVESA NAISUA

2002 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Nacanieli Qerewaqa Takayawa with Waisale Serevi during Serevi's book launch at the Holiday Inn, Suva. Picture: JOVESA NAISUA

SUN Tzu, the author of the internationally renowned and followed book The Art of War wrote “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

Taxidriver, Francis Lee, a Phillipino who has made Australia his home for the past 23 years, reminded The Fiji Times team of this while en route to Surfers Paradise from Brisbane Airport last Sunday.

Lee migrated to Australia looking for a better life but lost his wife to cancer four years ago.

“She died in my arms,” he said, pausing a bit.

It was one of the many stories he told us but the quote reminded me of our last Commonwealth Games gold medallist — Nacanieli Qerewaqa Takayawa, who achieved this feat during the 2002 games.

In the history of Fiji at the Commonwealth Games, only three people have ever won gold and they are Mataika Tuicakau who won gold at the 1950 games in the shot put event, Sani Fine in boxing in 1982 and Takayawa.

Naca, as he is commonly known, calls himself “the journey man”.

“I went through a lot of things and learned a lot of things in my journey that shaped me to be the person I am today,” Takayawa said.

Naca comes from a family synonymous with the sport in Fiji.

His father, the late Viliame Takayawa, was an Olympian and represented Fiji for several years and winning gold at the 1979 South Pacific Games.

“My preparation for the 2002 Commonwealth Games started four years earlier with the Commonwealth Judo Championship in Edingburgh, Scotland. That was the first time that I won the Commonwealth Judo Championship. In 1998 I won two gold medals, in 2000 I won a bronze in the Commonwealth Judo Championship A Division. In 2002 I maintained the intensity and went on to train for a few months in Japan,” Naca said.

He looked back today thanking the Almighty and his father for his journey.

“Going into Manchester in 2002, because I was a Commonwealth gold medallist, the BBC had predicted four athletes in judo who were sure to win the gold medal. One was a world champion from Canada, a world under-81kg champion from Scotland, an Englishman and I was the fourth.”

As in the words of Tzu, Naca followed the battle plans laid down by his father and endured all the pains and difficulties to become the champion.

“All I had to do was to stay focused and get the details right. I was told to get the little things right and not too much on the end part. I was focused on the journey to win. By then I was the four times Oceania champion and the South Pacific champion in the 98kg division. After 2002, I won the Commonwealth Judo Championship in 2004 and 2006.

“Today I still thank God for my talent. Those are the gifts that an athlete has. My dad was strict on my training. I started that journey since I was trained from an early age. He set specialised training for me because he had a plan and he told me that despite the tough training sessions I went through, I should try to enjoy them.”

Takayawa boasts that only a few can survive the tough training he went through.

“It was meant to groom a champion. When I won in 2002, those memories of the pain and the difficulties and the sacrifices I went through were forgotten. They were replaced by the sweet memory and feeling of winning. The win in that split second when you know you have beaten your opponent was a different feeling. Words cannot describe the feeling of being a champion. It surpassed all the difficulties you went through. If I can do it again, if the years can be rolled back, I will not hesitate to do it again for Fiji.”

His journey to victory was not smooth sailing.

“The journey to the victory dais is the biggest test an athlete should endure. My dad spent his own money bulldozing a hill in Baulevu, Naitasiri and cut a winding road up another where I carried pine poles similar to those used as electric poles up that road. There was no gravel. It was newly built and slippery, yet I carried my cross up that mountain.

“Those training sessions taught me a lot of things. I learned to beat all obstacles. Sometimes I almost threw the logs and wanted to quit, but I wanted to please my dad, I knew he had a plan and I held on to that little hope that one day I can make it. The target was the world and when I won that medal, I humbled myself, not as a champion, but a small young person who had learned to listen, to follow instructions and above all to obey God all the time because He gave me that strength and had crowned me as a champion even before I started training.”

For those who know Naca’s father would know that he was a no nonsense coach and would not settle for excuses.

“My dad’s advice was simple, train hard and focus on winning. Most of the training was done here. My Japan trips were just to improve my techniques. My dad’s long term goal was for me to be an Olympic Games champion. The other wins were stepping stones to that dream. We started from home then we moved to being a club champion, to district, national, South Pacific, Oceania, Commonwealth, US champion and then to the Olympics.

“I started training at four years old. In 1995, I won the Pacific Games in Tahiti. The only other person that won was my father in 1979 South Pacific Games in Suva. I achieved that when I was 16 years old then the Commonwealth Games Judo Championship when I was 23.”

But he also made a few sporting sacrifices.

For example, he dropped out of the national junior rugby squad when he was a student.

“I thought there were a lot of rugby boys. I knew if I leave, someone else takes over today. In judo there were few people and I had a chance of becoming a champion in an individual sport.

“The second reason was that I wanted to make my dad happy. I knew judo was a way for me to repay him of all the good things he did for me and my family. If I win I will make him happy and proud.

“Becoming a champion was a journey of my life. I learnt a lot of things that made me who I am today. While in Japan, and because of the resources we have here in Fiji I learnt to live within my means. Other competitors had access to high profile training which I could not afford then. So, while on break during training sessions, I had a lot of quiet time. Some people use that to meditate, those times allowed me to read the Bible.

“That was my meditation. That’s where I came close to knowing the Lord. It strengthened my faith. And he made a champion out of me.”

Naca hopes his journey to gold would inspire Team Fiji at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, which starts today at the Gold Coast.

“Our athletes in Australia had prepared well. They will play well. They have done the hard yards. There is nothing stopping them now. We will win. They are their own enemies.

“They should be themselves, enjoy the moment, do not be afraid of your enemy. If I can carry those pine logs up a hill and meet my saviour at the top who crowned me to be a champion even before I won in 2002, surely he will do it for you. I wish you luck.”

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