The National, Tuesday July 14th, 2015
SO far, so good was Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s remark last week after the first few days of the 2015 Pacific Games in Port Moresby.
As the sporting spectacle enters its second and final week of competition, it’s worth noting the achievements and disappointments thus far.
As of 9pm on Sunday night, the Games website medals tally had Papua New Guinea leading with 32 gold, 19 silver and 20 bronze medals.
The host nation was followed by New Caledonia 25 gold, 22 silver, 19bronze), Tahiti (19 gold, 13 silver, 8bronze), Samoa (15 gold, 20 silver, 1 bronze) and Fiji (11 gold, 19 silver, 20 bronze).
The rest of the 24 countries, including newcomers Australia and New Zealand, were struggling below double-digit figures.
Australia was in sixth place with 7 gold, 16 silver and 10 bronze medals, while New Zealand was well below in 15th spot without a gold medal and only 4 silver and 9 bronze medals.
And to make matters worse for New Zealand, their All White’s Olympic dream was shattered only hours before they were due to take the field in their qualifying final against Fiji on Sunday night.
Defender Deklan Wynne played in New Zealand’s semi-final win over Vanuatu despite failing to meet the FIFA regulation for a player born outside of his representative country. The Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) upheld Vanuatu’s appeal and disqualified the New Zealanders.
Fiji went on to become the first Pacific islands country to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics by edging out Vanuatu 4-3 on penalties.
It was a frustrating week for our friends from the “land of the long white cloud”. Controversy kick-started their campaign when All Whites coach Anthony Hudson described the soccer facilities in Port Moresby as sub-standard. His much-publicised comments drew the ire of many Papua New Guineans, with Sports and Pacific Games Minister Justin Tkatchenko describing it as “a disgrace”.
And following an impressive Games opening ceremony, a New Zealand athlete was sent home for making “racist comments” on social media about PNG being the home of cannibals.
It is understood the athlete posted on his social media page from Sir John Guise Stadium before the opening ceremony a photo of himself with Huli dancers. The comment he posted was along the lines of “getting ready for the opening ceremony with the cannibals”.
The NZ Olympic Committee has apologised to the PNG Government and people for the comments.
Despite the disappointments of the past week, it is envisaged that Team New Zealand will continue to compete in the true spirit of the Games.
From the start of competition, the host nation set the pace with gold medal hauls in weightlifting and swimming.
Commonwealth champions Steven Kari and Dika Toua were expected to clean-sweep their categories but surprisingly stumbled in the early stages. Toua had to be content with one gold medal out of a possible three, while Kari made a comeback to clinch two gold medals out of a possible three.
Our aging “superfish” Ryan Pini lived up to expectations and swam down a younger field to haul in a record seven gold medals. When the swimming competition at the Taurama Aquatic Centre ended on Saturday night, Pini had notched two more gold medals than he did in the 2011 Games in Noumea.
We salute this amazing athlete for his herculean efforts and achievements, which will be unmatched for a long time.
As Pini bows out in a blaze of glory, a new generation of PNG athletes is making their presence felt.
In weightlifting, 22-year-old Thelma Toua overshadowed older sister Dika by winning three gold medals on the first day of competition to get the country off to a flying start. Other new stars were born in Va’a racing when our young women edged out world champions Tahiti to earn the gold medal. Our powerlifters were awesome with the world-class Linda Pulsan leading the way in hauling in gold. So too were our rugby league 9s team.
The stage is set for a fast finish with PNG heading onto the athletics, softball and soccer fields with great expectations of more gold.