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Written By

Katherine Kokkonen


College of Healthcare Sciences

Publish Date

9 May 2018

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Born to run?

A village in Papua New Guinea might be the birthplace of a future Johnathan Thurston. A remote community on the other side of the country could be the home of the next Usain Bolt. While the province next door might be fielding an up-and-coming AFL superstar.

The speed, agility and strength of Papua New Guinean athletes will be mapped as part of a JCU research initiative, giving talent scouts a shortcut when it comes to assembling their dream teams.

Honours student Kieran Sciberras will be testing the nation’s athletes and rising stars over the next two years to identify where Papua New Guinea’s untapped sports talent is hiding. His research raises the question of nature versus nurture and whether some people are born to run, while others might be made to jump, throw or tackle.

“We’re trying to find out what the influence is of the origin of athletes and how it relates to their performance,” he says. “Usually it’s a combination of social aspects, genetics and the environment itself. Also, if your whole family only plays certain sports or do certain things each day that’s going to have a future impact on your kids and their kids and how they’ve adapted to a certain environment.”

PNG Womens FIFA trophy 2016
Kieran Sciberras
Kieran Sciberras will be testing Papua New Guinea’s athletes to uncover sports talent

Kenya – a hot spot for niche athletic talent

Globally, the best known hot spot for niche athletic talent is Kenya.

The Kalenjin tribe from the Rift Valley Province tend to astonish commentators with their talent and the runners are known to dominate distance events across the world.

“The ones who win marathons and break world records are all from the one area in Kenya,” Kieran says.

“What we’re trying to do is see if there are areas in Papua New Guinea where there is untapped talent. So if we did testing over in Wewak and found that those athletes had really high levels of endurance, whenever someone wants to find endurance athletes they can go directly to that area and just scout from there.”
Kieran Sciberras 

Strength and conditioning staff from the Papua New Guinea Sports Foundation will work with Kieran on the project. He will test the foundation’s athletes before travelling around Papua New Guinea and hosting open talent camps, where he could be testing 100 to 200 people each day.

Creating a map of PNG’s sports talent

“I’ll be working with those athletes and testing things such as aerobic endurance, strength, power and speed,” he says. “Our overall goal is to create a map of the sports talent in Papua New Guinea.”

The Adelaide-born and Cairns-raised researcher already has a strong relationship with Papua New Guinea. His mother is from there and Kieran worked there before starting his Honours thesis. He hopes that his research will enhance the country’s long-term sporting future and help Papua New Guinea reach their goal of being in the top 10 Commonwealth countries for sport.

“My mum is from PNG and I’m looking forward to being able to give back to the community there,” he says. “I just think there is that much untapped talent we could be missing out on — not just for Papua New Guinea but on the world stage, as well. I’d like to work in Papua New Guinea in the sports industry, especially in talent ID. There just seems to be so much talent in PNG we haven’t had access to.”

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