NSI pair hitting their straps


INTO the second year of their programmes, development athletes from the National Sports Institute (NSI) in Goroka, Jonathan Dende and Alphonse Igish, clocked personal bests during part one of the PNG Air Grand Prix Series in Port Moresby earlier this month.
The Bougainville pair played other sports before switching to athletics and under the tutelage of NSI development coach Samu Sasama, the pair have stepped up their performances, building their way up to compete against some of the country’s finest athletes.
The 22-year-olds have been inspired by training alongside Papua New Guinea’s best female sprinter Toea Wisil, who was at Goroka’s NSI earlier this year before leaving for the United States.
The 2020 PNG Air National Athletics Championships were the pair’s first major competition, apart from the Highlands-Mamose and New Guinea Islands championships prior to the nationals.
Following their satisfactory performances at the nationals along with fellow athletes Paias Wisil and Jobby Kinzu, the Bougainville lads went back and worked harder on improving their times.
This paid off when they competed in the Highlands-Mamose meet last month in Goroka where Igish ran his personal best time of 11.03 seconds in the 100m heats, coming second to Wisil.
In the 200m, he clocked 22.5s, finishing second behind Dende as well as in the 400m, where he finished second with 50.1s.
Dende proved he was an athlete to be reckoned with, clocking personal bests of 22.2s (200m) and 49.6s (400m) ahead of Igish.
“I started competing in athletics in 2020 and before that, I used to play soccer in high school,” Dende told The National.
“After competing in a school carnival at Buin Secondary School, I was selected to compete in athletics.
“In last year’s nationals, I didn’t perform well because I wasn’t planning my race, like knowing where to kick or stride.
“Before the Grand Prix, coach Samu Sasama taught me how to plan my race and my running techniques, so that’s how I improved my performance.”
Igish used to play rugby union before he switched to athletics recently.
“I had no idea about athletics,” Igish confessed.
“I started playing sevens in 2014 when I was in Hutjena Secondary School and represented my school to compete against other secondary schools in Bougainville.
“I was also part of my village club (Malasang Traders) in the rugby union association in Buka.
“With no doubt or high expectation, I made it through and was selected to train in the Black Orchids sevens development squad.
“While training as a rookie, I made the transition to athletics following arrangements with Black Orchids coach Kelly Havara after noticing my potential in the sport.
“In 2019, I attended a talent identification programme held by NSI staff in Bougainville.
“I took part in some events and was identified. From there, I was sent to Goroka to train under Sasama.”
After their showing at the Grand Prix, Dende and Igish are back in training for the upcoming New Guinea Islands championships and the nationals towards the end of the year.
“Although 2020 was my first year in athletics, I am grateful that I have learnt so many things from elite athletes like Toea, my coaches and team members who share their experiences with us and always motivate us to improve our performances on the track,” Igish said.
“I appreciate them and I’m looking forward to running a good qualifying time at this year’s national championships and set new personal bests.”