Kuinini "Nini" Manumua, who started lifting weights at age 13 at San Francisco's Lincoln High School, will be representing her family's home country of Tonga in the sport of weightlifting at the Tokyo Olympics — the first woman ever to represent Tonga in the sport.
The 20-year-old resident of Hunters Point tells KTVU that she's always loved weightlifting. "It's very empowering for a girl to do lifting," she says. "It makes me feel strong."
The Chronicle first reported on Manumua qualifying for the Olympics over the weekend, noting that her name became something of a cause celebre in the right-wing media — ironic given that she's a San Franciscan!! — because she was initially denied a spot representing the generally underrepresented country of Tonga, while transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand made the cut. (For example, the conservative Washington Examiner used the example of Hubbard's inclusion at Manumua's expense to blare the headline "The Tokyo Olympics marks the beginning of the end for the integrity of women's sports.")
But Manumua ended up qualifying after all, receiving a tripartite invitation on July 1, which is sort of a wild-card slot for underrepresented countries. She tells the Chronicle, "I was crying I was so happy."
This is Kuinini ‘Nini’ Manumua, the woman who was ultimately displaced by inclusion of Laurel Hubbard.— Emma Hilton (@FondOfBeetles) June 21, 2021
She’s 21, and it would have been her first Olympics. pic.twitter.com/l8RH0q0njz
Manumua was born to a Mormon Tongan family on American Samoa, and her family later relocated to Tonga and then to San Francisco, where she says she's grown up in housing projects in Bayview-Hunters Point. Her brother, who was a standout football player at Lincoln High, per the Chronicle, is now on his Mormon mission in Alaska, and Manumua says she's still trying to decide whether to go on one herself after the Olympics.
Also a volleyball player in school, Manumua won a bronze medal at the youth world weightlifting championship at the age of 17 in 2017, and it was later that her coach realized her best path to the Olympics might be to represent Tonga.
She currently is trying to get her clean and jerk weight record above the 300-pound mark. Weighing 240 pounds herself, she can snatch above her weight, at 242 pounds.
Her coach, Ben Hwa, who'll be traveling with her to the Olympics, tells KTVU, "To have the background that she has, to make it to the Olympics, I don't know what better story there is."
And as Manumua herself tells the station of her story, she hopes it will give hope to others. "A lot of people may say you can't do it where you're not coming from the best circumstances. You find a way to do it," she says.