After collecting the first medal in the games – a silver in the men’s V6 1500 metres race on Sunday (Cook Islands time) – the oe vaka squad added a bronze medal to their bag in the women’s V1 500m race yesterday.
Top local female paddler Serena Hunter, who qualified in the V1 500m finals after finishing on top in the heats, had to battle choppy waters to finish behind Tahiti and New Caledonia respectively.
The highlight of the Games so far has been the men’s V6 1500 sprint performances on Sunday which started with a great effort by the Cook Island paddlers in the heats, which were marred by disqualifications and protests.
The Cooks squad rose above the issues to claim a well-deserved silver medal in the final, beaten by Tahiti for first place.
After the final, dressed in their team tracksuits and wearing proud smiles on their faces, the crew of stroker John Beasley, number two Fletcher Melvin, number three Ali Webb, number four John Raita, number five Otea Tommy and steerer Tupuna Amo stood proudly as the Cook Islands flag was raised for the medal ceremony.
The road to the podium was a relatively straight forward affair for the Cooks who blitzed their first heat to go straight through to the finals.
After watching the first – up women’s 1500m race, which ended in a drawn out protest, the local lads had their rolling start on-point followed by a classy heat-winning performance.
The heat was raced over a 300m course that included five turns – a major battle in the sometimes blustery conditions on the harbour at Port Moresby.
From the green flag the Cooks powered ahead to take the lead and skilfully pulled their vaka around each turn buoy using a short and fast stroke to start before finding their groove with longer, more powerful strokes.
Their tactic was a winning one, with the Cooks crossing the line in 8.26 followed by the PNG team in 8.44 and Fiji in third with a time of 8.45.
In the other heats, oe vaka masters Tahiti effortlessly stroked their way to the finals along with Fiji, New Caledonia and underdog Guam who won their repechage race.
Large crowds gathered on the shores of the harbour for the final with Tahiti leading the charge followed by Guam and the Cooks who were neck – and – neck at each turn.
Using the same turning technique that saw them win their heat, the local paddlers pulled ahead of Guam but couldn’t catch a fast – finishing Tahiti who snatched the gold, while the Cooks were over the moon to win the silver medal.
The pride and thrill of winning silver was clearly visible on the men’s faces as they watched the Cook Islands flag being raised.
For youngster 16-year-old Otea Tommy, the experience left him alomost speechless saying only that he felt “good” and that it would probably take some time for the achievement to sink in.
But for seasoned paddler John Raita – the medal is a reward for the hard work in what has been a rocky road to PNG.
This is the 45-year-old paddler’s first time competing in a Pacific Games, but with over a decade of winning experiences at various paddling events – he says the excitement is not the same.
“You get so experienced the excitement is not the same as the first time in that sense,” Raita said.
“For me now it’s like, okay, I got this medal – now let’s get the next one!”
“I think it will take a while to sink in,” added Raita who was also looking ahead to the V1 500m and 1500m races the next day.
But in the men’s V1 500m dash final yesterday, Raita, who finished on top in the heats, had to settled for fourth place.
Returning to Sunday’s racing, watching their men being presented with their silver medals helped ease the disappointment for the women paddlers including Joyce Fortes, Chrissy Thomas, Annie Fisher, Vaea Melvin, Paulina Beddoes and Tara Cumming who just missed out on a podium finish in both the 500m and 1500m sprint events.
The men also missed out on a podium spot in the 500m race after taking the longer route to the final via the repechage.
The men and women V6 crews now look ahead to the marathon races on Saturday (Friday CI time) where the women will race over a 20km course and the men a 30km course.
The Cook Islands men’s and women’s touch teams were also in contention for bronze medals in their finals which were underway when this edition went to press yesterday.
Today, Team Cook Islands will compete in football, sailing, touch rugby and weightlifting events. Meanwhile, host PNG maintains the lead in the medal count with 10 gold, five silver and four bronze medals, as of midday yesterday.
Tahiti was second with seven gold, five silver and a bronze medal followed by Australia with five gold, 11 silver and three bronze medals.
Fiji remain in the race for its second Pacific Games title with four gold, four silver and seven bronze medals while Cook Islands were on 12th spot with a silver and a bronze medal.
Team Cook Islands have won 20 gold, 42 silver and 46 bronze medals since the inception of the games in 1963.