The CNMI may not yet be part of the Olympic movement, but that didn’t stop Northern Marianas Athletics secretary general Robin Sapong from representing the Commonwealth in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Sapong told Saipan Tribune that he had the opportunity to travel to Japan and take part in the Summer Olympics after attending the 225th World Athletics Council Meeting held in Tokyo prior to the Summer Games. Sapong is the president of the Oceania Athletics Association and is a member of the World Athletics Council.
The NMA official left Saipan last July 26 and is expected back until after the quadrennial event on Aug. 10.
Sapong said it’s simply surreal being part of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and being in the company of world-class athletes and officials who have been part of the Olympic movement since the 1960s.
“It’s a very, very different experience and crazy, crazy good. It’s beyond comprehension to explain what I’m feeling and I feel really honored to be able to go to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as part of World Athletics and Oceania Athletics,” he said.
He said his unreal experience went up several notches when he served as a presenter of the women’s 800m medal ceremony held last Tuesday at the Japan National Stadium. That event saw 19-year-old Athing Mu of the U.S. win the gold medal. Sapong is expected to again serve as presenter in the women’s 1,500m medal ceremony tomorrow, Aug. 6.
As much as Sapong wanted to have some sort of interaction with Oceania athletes seeing action in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as president of the OAA, he said current COVID-19 protocols limited contact. He added that his routine since arriving in Tokyo for the World Athletics meeting last July 28 is pretty much hotel to meeting venue/Olympic venue and back to the hotel.
Despite the limits brought about by COVID-19, Sapong said he’s still thankful to experience the Olympics first hand and even recalled the very first time he watched the Summer Games on TV in 1996. “Now you can see them live and not only during the actual competition but also during warmups,” he said, adding that he was able to witness first hand when Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas smashed the women’s triple jump world record to take the gold medal. Ditto for both the men’s and women’s 400m hurdles.
Lastly, Sapong said some members of the Olympics International Committee he was able to share a conversation with found it odd that the country he comes from—the CNMI—is not part of the Olympics. He tried his best to explain the consequence as to why the CNMI is not part of the Olympics and hopes that with the help of the Northern Marianas Sports Association, the islands would someday become part of the movement.
Unlike other U.S. territories like Guam and American Samoa, the CNMI continues to be shutout from the Olympics. Former NMSA president Michael White told Saipan Tribune in 2016 this is so because the OIC instructed the Commonwealth that it first needs to get things sorted out with the United States Olympic Committee before it could consider its application for Olympic membership. White wrote to USOC but never got a response.