Few athletes have the honour of representing their nation at an Olympic Games or even at Southeast Asia’s premier university sports tournament, the ASEAN University Games (AUG). But for Timor-Leste’s Juventina Napoleão, the duty of representing her country at international events is ever more important as the young nation looks to establish its presence in the sporting world.
The 27 year old long distance runner was one of two East Timorese athletes to compete at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, completing the marathon event with a time of 3:05:07.
In 2014, Napoleão competed for her country at the ASEAN University Games where she picked up a bronze medal in the women’s 500m in Palembang – their only medal at these games.
Just less than a year later (2015), the Olympian would participate at the marathon event in the 28th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Singapore, and the 92nd Malaysia Open Track and Field tournament where she finished with a silver.
Other events that Napoleão has participated in include the 2012 TokyoMarathon where she overcame the odds of having the lack of quality footwear in order to finish the race with a respectable time of three hours and five minutes.
Napoleão track record as an athlete is one to be proud of, considering the young nation’s inadequate training facilities and lack of funding for its athletes.
Having won independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a UN-brokered peace deal, sport development was low on the list of priorities for a young nation that had to do its best to build up its governance capacity.
The introduction of the Dili Marathon in 2010 and mountain biking events in 2011, however, have helped put sporting development back on track.
In fact, Napoleão had also competed in several Dili Marathons in between these major international events, where she was the first female competitor to finish the 2012 edition of the marathon.
Her stellar performance for her country at the 2014 AUG and at the Olympics and the SEA Games have certainly cemented her place as a sporting hero among her compatriots.
Whether or not Napoleão competes at the upcoming 18th AUG in Singapore, what is certain is that Timor-Leste’s next generation of university athletes will certainly look to do their best and do their senior proud.