Some people dance to remember, some people dance to forget. Olympian David Katoatau dances to save his home country, Kiribati, from disappearing into the sea.
Kiribati is a tiny republic made up of 33 coral atolls and reef islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean—it’s more than 1,000 miles from anywhere. Since the nation’s highest point is just two meters above sea level, climate change threatens to swallow the equatorial island chain.
Which is why Katoatau busted a move after each of his appearances in the men’s 105-kilogram weightlifting competition in Rio de Janeiro earlier this week.
Watch him work:
It’s not the first time that Katoatau, the 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medalist, has tried to raise awareness about climate change—and call attention to the specific challenges his people face.
“Every day my people fear for their lives as their homes are lost to the rising sea levels. We live on an atoll with nothing but flat land and ocean surrounding us. We have nowhere to climb and nowhere to run. As a sporting representative of my country, I am begging you to save us,” Katoatau wrote in an open letter in 2014.
“I bet the countries of the world to see what’s happening to Kiribati. The simple truth is that we do not have the resources to save ourselves. We will be the first to go. It will be the extinction of a race. Open your eyes and look to the other low lying level islands around the Pacific—they will soon fall with us.”
Interestingly, as sea levels rise, some of Kiribati’s islands may actually rise with them, as Co.Exist’s Adele Peters explains here. But that doesn’t make the weightlifter’s call for climate action any less important.
Katoatau didn’t make the podium in this year’s Games, finishing sixth in qualifying Group B, but he’s still a winner in my book.