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Amanda Shalala in Birmingham

Commonwealth Games can provide the opportunity of a lifetime for competitors from all over the world

The Malawi Queens want to be considered one of the best netball teams in the world. (Getty Images: Elsa)

It's the end of the men's 67kg weightlifting competition at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games and Kiribati's Ruben Katoatau, 25, is one of the most-popular competitors with fans and the media.

He didn't win gold or silver or bronze, and even he can't quite understand why there's so much interest in him.

It could be the enthusiasm with which he approaches each lift, and the broad smile that breaks out after each success.

Or it could be the "Friendly Games" spirit, where everyone enjoys seeing competitors from small nations getting their chance to shine.

And, as good as gold may be, for many others like Katoatau, it means so much just to be a part of the event.

"I'm really excited about the crowd. I'm really happy for that," he said.

"I get fire on my platform, and I lift a weight. I really give everything."

Katoatau says weightlifting is not very popular in the Pacific Island.

Kiribati's Ruben Katoatau also competed at last year's Tokyo Olympics. (Reuters: Edgard Garrido)

He was inspired to start the sport because of his brother, David Katoatau, who went to three Olympics, and became a cult figure for his enthusiastic dancing after lifts.

"I really love weightlifting because I just want to do everything for my country. And I really want to encourage everyone out in Kiribati to what I do," Katoatau said.

Katoatau trains outdoors, there's no proper gym where he lives and, when it rains, they have to find shelter.

He's one of eight athletes competing from Kiribati at the Games, and they provide a valuable platform for him and his sport.

"The Commonwealth Games is very big for my country and, if everyone knows that I compete here, it's like I'm really famous for this time," he said.

Nikhat Zareen fighting for women's rights

India's Zareen Nikhat (right) wants to inspire more women to play sport. (Getty Images: Mark Kolbe)

India's Nikhat Zareen is the favourite to win the women's 48-50kg light flyweight boxing gold.

She's the recently crowned world champion, and a popular figure at home, competing at her first Commonwealth Games.

"It's a bigger opportunity for me to showcase my game here and to gain experience before the Paris Olympics," she said.

"I'm really excited and I'm looking forward to win all the matches and win gold medal for my country."

The 26-year-old has also become an important role model for girls and women in particular.

"Coming from a Muslim community, there are a lot of women who want to achieve their dreams, but because of the Orthodox society's thinking, they don't come out," she said.

"I also come from a society where they don't allow the girls to achieve their dream. But I went against them because of support of my dad.

"And, I think if I win medal here, gold medal for my country, definitely that will be a great message and inspiration for them."

Malawi Queens hope to challenge the big four

Australia, England, New Zealand, Jamaica – these are the netball powerhouses we're used to seeing fill the podium.

But the Malawi Queens are perennial over-achievers in this sport. Four years ago on the Gold Coast they upset the Silver Ferns, and they're currently ranked seventh in the world.

That's despite not having a single indoor netball court in the country: They train on hard, outdoor surfaces.

"If God has given you a chance to be on a platform such as this, you need to show your best because a lot of people are willing to come here, but they can't manage [to get to the Games]," Malawi coach Peace Chawinga-Kalua said.

"So, having that lifetime chance, I will call that a lifetime chance, you need to showcase something for Malawi. We are going to do it."

Malawi is one of the poorest nations in the world, but Chawinga-Kalua says the government is planning to build an indoor, sprung court.

"They have promised us everything and they have told us that we are not going to miss any tournament that comes along," she said.

"That tells us that, if we want to play a lot of games for the girls to be in touch [with the best in the world], that's viable."

And that could mean, one day in the not-too-distant future, that medal dais may have a new team standing on top.

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