Subject: RT: Weightlifting East Timorese Makes History

Weightlifting East Timorese Makes History

Updated 4:35 AM ET September 16, 2000

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Weightlifter Martinho de Araujo made history Saturday by becoming the first East Timorese to compete as an independent athlete at the Olympic Games.

"I have gone through a lot of difficulty at home -- today I lifted not only weights but my country as well," said de Araujo, who wore a plain white vest sporting the five Olympic rings as his team uniform.

De Araujo, one of four East Timorese competitors in Sydney, came last in the men's 56 kg weight class, but his participation alone was hailed as a victory.

The former schoolteacher's homeland was ravaged by pro-Indonesia militia last year after East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence.

De Araujo's Olympic teammate, boxer Victor Ramos, was forced to flee for his life into the territory's mountains as the militia launched a wave of killing and destruction.

The weightlifter won hearts around the world Friday as he broke into a jig when he and his fellow East Timorese athletes entered Sydney's Olympic stadium to massive applause during the spectacular opening ceremony.

"It was a great honor to march under the banner of the Olympic flag," de Araujo said.

"I was so exhilarated because I had waited for three months for that moment and the time had arrived."

The United Nations, which administers East Timor in the lead-up to formal independence, had successfully appealed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to allow the East Timorese to take part in the Sydney Olympics.

They were granted a place of honor in the athletes' march, just ahead of host Australia.

A historic bond between the two countries was strengthened last year when Australian troops led a multinational force into East Timor to quell the militia violence.

De Araujo lifted 90 kg with his second attempt in the clean-and-jerk for a total score of 157.5 kg, but was outperformed by a field led by Belarus' Vitalty Debernev.

Ramos faces his first boxing bout Sunday in a tough first round draw against former Commonwealth Games gold medallist Raymond Narh from Ghana.

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