Other countries reap rewards from athletes with ties to the Aloha State
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The melting pot that is Hawaii aptly reflects the melting pot of these Olympic Games.
Last in a series by staff writer Cindy Luis profiling the Islands’ athletes competing in the Summer Olympics from Aug. 6-24
From a Marshall Islands-born chef at Panda Express -- whose favorite item on the menu is Beijing Beef -- to two University of Hawaii All-American water polo players representing the Netherlands, there is a touch of Hawaii on several non-U.S. Olympic teams.
The Marshall Islands is making its Games debut, two years after receiving International Olympic Committee recognition. Among the five-member team are Honolulu's Anju Jason (tae kwon do) and Jared Heine (swimming).
Swimming for the Philippines will be Daniel Coakley (Kealakehe '07) and Christel Simms (Punahou '09).
Two UH softball players are competing for their native Australia: Justine Smethurst and Stacey Porter. Former Rainbow Wahine swimmer Melanie Schlanger also is competing for Australia.
Another pair of former UH All-Americans -- Iefke Van Belkum and Meike DeNooy -- are on the Dutch women's water polo team.
On the bench coaching the Chinese basketball team is former UH guard Jarinn Akana, currently an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks.
And former 'Iolani water polo boys and girls coach Aaron Chaney (Punahou '75), the top referee at the 2004 Athens Games, retains his position for the Beijing competition.
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It is not called Micronesia -- extremely small islands -- without good reason.
The chef at the Moanalua Panda Express will compete in the Olympics
Try picking out the dots on a globe. It's not like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack; it's more like looking for pin pricks in the vast area known as Oceania.
To say that the Marshall Islands are located in the Pacific about halfway between Hawaii and Australia is to summarily dismiss some 5,000 miles of water as a drop in a bucket. Anyone who has ever flown in a prop plane from Pohnpei to Majuro to Kwajalein knows there is no "there" there.
It makes the journey from Ebeye to Beijing via Honolulu that much more impressive. That's the trek that Anju Jason makes this month, one of a five athletes with ties to the multi-island nation who'll make history.
The Marshall Islands is making its Olympic debut, having gained recognition from the International Olympic Committee in 2006. The 20-year-old Jason will be there, competing in tae kwon do at 80kg (176 pounds).
"It's very uplifting for our people," said Jason, born on Ebeye, the most populated island of the Kwajalein Atoll. "I've already received many letters of congratulations from the Marshalls. The whole country knows and will be cheering."
Jason, who moved to Hawaii at age 6, has represented the Marshalls before. His dream of international competition was fueled when he participated in last year's South Pacific Games in Apia, Samoa.
A few months later, he had qualified for the Olympics at a tournament in New Caledonia. The chef at the Moanalua Panda Express was happy and humbled.
"I still can't believe it," Jason said. "But it only made me want to train harder. I'm in a very competitive weight class.
"I just hope to do my best. It's a very rare opportunity and I am so proud."
Another Hawaii resident, Jared Heine (Damien '02), will be competing for the Marshalls in swimming.
Heine, a part-time coach for Kamehameha Swim Club, left Monday for Beijing. Accompanying the 23-year-old Florida State graduate is his coach, Kevin Flanagan, head coach of KSC.
Rounding out the Marshalls' contingent are 18-year-old runner Haley Nemra (800 meters) of Marysville, Wash.; 16-year-old swimmer Julianne Kirchner (50 free) from Shoals, Ala.; and 30-year-old runner Roman Cress (100 meters) from Minneapolis. Only Cress and Jason were born in the Marshalls, the others qualify through dual citizenship.
The team will be given traditional Marshallese outfits for the Opening Ceremony.