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10 sporting highlights of 2011

Wednesday 11 January 2012 | Published in Regional

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2011 was another boom year of great events and successes for the sports-loving Cook Islands. Annual events such as the Vaka Eiva Festival, International Sevens in Heaven and the International Triathlon all ran without a hitch, alongside a number of new events that now join our busy national sporting calendar. Today chief reporter Matariki Wilson gives her top 10 highlights of 2011.

Cook Islands sailors were without a doubt the nations star athletes of 2011.

After cleaning up most of the awards at the 2010 sports awards early in 2011 local sailors have continued to grow in strength and achievement with the appointment of new coach Laura Baldwin.

After months of tough training and tours through Europe in pursuit of Olympic qualification Manihiki born sailor Helema Williams took on the regions best at the Pacific Games in Noumea to win the gold medal outright.

Together with fellow female sailor Teau McKenzie the pair also took out the gold medal in the teams event.

Not to be outdone Taua Elisa and Junior Charlie had their time to shine on the water and take to the Pacific Games podium to receive silver for the mens laser team event.

Also part of the team but not quite reaching the podium were young sailors Aquila Tatira and Tanus Henry who certainly had loads of fun on the dynamic Hobie Cat craft.

And its not over for the sailors who right through the year continued training and are currently in Australia and New Zealand competing at various regattas.

The new crop of sailors in the optimist class is also getting their first taste of international racing at the Optimist Worlds in Napier guaranteeing the sport has an even brighter future in the islands.

Love or hate it standup paddle boarding or SUP was without a doubt the fastest growing sport on the rock in 2011.

While a small number of locals already in the know about the sport were making weekly paddling trips on Muri lagoon the sports popularity spiked when returning Cook Islander and events coordinator Charlotte Piho launched her Surf the Cook Islands company and tour in May.

While the surfing thing didnt pan out with the big break proving elusive stand up paddling did.

Piho organised standup paddling clinics on Muri lagoon with number one Australian standup paddler Travis Grant.

The Rakahanga princess also organised a celebrity dash brining sports and business people of the island together to try out the sport.

Even the The Beast Kevin Iro gave it a go and within a month local businesses along Muri beach were importing paddle boards of all shapes and sizes.

Piho even began running group stand up paddleboard yoga sessions which proved popular with visiting international sevens and league players and teams.

If you havent tried standup paddling head to Muri and get into it.

On a Monday evening in early February Arorangi Bears rugby league captain Augustine Heather and fellow team mates Te Ina Tapurau Jnr and Johnny George headed out for a fishing trip that they will never forget.

An hour into the trip a rogue wave capsized the trios 5.5-metre fishing boat near the Edgewater FAD.

Concerned for his mates safety, Tapurau decided to swim to shore to raise the alarm but it took the front rower over six hours to reach the shores of Arorangi.

It wasnt until first light the next day that local fishermen, police patrol boat Te Kukupa and the Air Raro Cesna craft headed out in search of the two missing men.

Fortunately for the pair, they were located about 5.1km from the Rarotongan Resort and Spa and their team mate Tapurau was hailed a hero.

The Puaikura community were out in force to welcome home their sons who were swiftly whisked to the hospital for checks.

The community even held a thanksgiving service to thank all involved in the search and rescue for bringing their boys home.

From Shenzhen in China to Helsinki in Finland to the Isle of Man and New Caledonia, our athletes have travelled far and wide almost as much as our politicians in pursuit of sporting glory.

Local sailors started 2011 in Europe racing in regattas to help qualify for the London 2012 Olympics and the hardworking sailors are still at it pursuing their dreams of representing the country at the Olympic level.

Our globetrotting weightlifter Sirla Pera set a new personal best lift at the 2011 Universiade event in China in August before packing his bags to join Team Cook Islands in Noumea for the Pacific Games.

At the games Team Cook Islands placed 9th overall on the medal tally bringing home a total of 12 medals with a final bronze medal awarded to bodybuilder Aaron Enoka just before Christmas.

Two gold medals were won by sailors Helema Williams and Teau McKenzie while the six silver medals were won by male sailors Taua Elisa, Junior Charlie, the V6 20km marathon womens oe vaka crew and the final three medals won by weightlifter Sam Pera Jnr.

Boxer Eddie Daniel secured a bronze medal for his performance in the ring while golfing prodigy Elmay Viking reluctantly picked up bronze after her competition was rained out while she was in the gold medal position.

Oe vaka paddlers also picked up two bronze medals with Tupuna Amo coming third in the V1 15km mens race and the womens crew winning a controversial bronze in the three vaka V6 500m sprint race.

Swimmers Tepaia Payne and Celeste Brown and shotputter Jolyn Iro competed for the Cook Islands at the four-day Commonwealth Youth Games held in the small Irish sea state Isle of Man.

The international rugby league match between the Cook Islands and Kiwis was tipped to be the biggest sport event of 2011.

Tickets and t-shirts were printed, promotional material pumped out and the event hyped up.

As Cook Islands league players from across New Zealand and Australia arrived on the rock for the October 6 event the news arrived that the Kiwis had pulled out of the test match.

NZRL officials told their Cook Islands counterparts it could not pull together a representative side due to New Zealands involvement in the NRL, NYC and NSW Cup grand finals and leaving the Kuki team without an opponent on the field and without much needed funding for the squads planned 2012 UK tour ahead of the 2013 World Cup.

In the end NZRL sent to the rock league legends Ruben Wiki, Fuifui Moimoi, Issac Luke and Jarred Hargraves who ran a successful league carnival for local children.

Wiki even ran a fitness workshop while on the island, served up kai at the final evening of games between local and international Cook Islands league players and joined the Extreme Fitness workouts.

Discussions are still ongoing for a possible rematch and compensation for lost revenue.

Only in the Cook Islands do athletes gather to run for beer!

The inaugural Matutu Mile was held in May 2011 as one of the fun run events of the annual week of running programme.

Everyone made their way to the Matutu Brewery in Tikioki where they drank a glass of fine Matutu beer or water before heading back to the tri site start line.

Some were super competitive, with Stephen Farrell coming first in a time of 4 minutes 43 seconds, but most people just did it for fun, with the emphasis on having a good time, dressing up and drinking good local beer.

The Matutu Moment prize went to young Elliot Weir for running the whole mile backwards!

This year the second Matutu Mile is set to be staged on May 16.

The international rugby league match between the Cook Islands and Kiwis was tipped to be the biggest sport event of 2011.

Tickets and t-shirts were printed, promotional material pumped out and the event hyped up.

As Cook Islands league players from across New Zealand and Australia arrived on the rock for the October 6 event – the news arrived that the Kiwis had pulled out of the test match.

NZRL officials told their Cook Islands counterparts it could not pull together a representative side due to New Zealand’s involvement in the NRL, NYC and NSW Cup grand finals and leaving the Kuki team without an opponent on the field and without much needed funding for the squad’s planned 2012 UK tour ahead of the 2013 World Cup.

In the end NZRL sent to the rock league legends Ruben Wiki, Fuifui Moimoi, Issac Luke and Jarred Hargraves who ran a successful league carnival for local children.

Wiki even ran a fitness workshop while on the island, served up kai at the final evening of games between local and international Cook Islands league players and joined the Extreme Fitness workouts.
Discussions are still ongoing for a possible rematch and compensation for lost revenue.

Kitesurfing has exploded in recent years as the hottest and edgiest of extreme water sports with the Cook Islands hosting its first ever kitesurfing event the Manureva International Competition and Festival on Maina Iti island in Aitutaki.

Four local kitesurfers Pauro Arnold, Ina Nooroa, organiser Paka Worthington and Eva Koteka stepped up to the challenge of taking on some of the worlds best riders including two-time world champion Jesse Richman, who eventually won the event, and Tahitian rider Orava Terai.

And while the event was less structured than a high-profile competition, Manureva was to all intents and purposes a success. This years competition will be on June 25-29.

Sporting celebrities from various codes made Rarotonga their holiday spot through 2011 with most taking time out to share with locals and one in particular making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

South Auckland heavyweight boxer David Tua shared words of wisdom with local athletes at the sports awards and fellow New Zealand boxer Shane Mountain Warrior Cameron took time out to soak up the Raro sun.

Legendary All Blacks winger Jonah Lomu knuckled down with local kids when he visited the island to promote the Rugby World Cup and former All Black player and coach Buck Shelford mingled with locals at the International Sevens in Heaven.

A number of other stars boosted the ranks in a number of rugby sevens teams at the Sevens in Heaven with 2010 All Black debutant Rene Ranger, Highlanders first five-eight Lima Sopoaga and Canterbury Crusaders wing Robbie Fruean among the big names that stepped onto the BCI Stadium.

Kiwi league stars Ruben Wiki, Fuifui Moimoi, Issac Luke and Jarred Hargraves made up for the Kiwis pulling out of what was supposed to be the first international league tournament on the island.

Even the Northern Districts cricket team, featuring a couple of past and current Black Caps, visited and put on a spectacular performance for local cricket fans.

Then the now infamous All Black Zac Guildford showed what not to do on the island when he harassed local triathlete Kelly Pick, hit the town butt naked on a drunken binge and punched over a couple of blokes at Trader Jacks.

Adding insult to injury, the promising young rugby player, who was pinned as a sporting role model for young boys and girls, gaps it off the island via the catering truck without fronting up with an apology.

Capitalising on the success of the annual Vaka Eiva paddling festival, Aitutaki outrigger paddlers organised and ran the first ever international paddling event on the island taking six V6 crews 36km across the expansive Aitutaki lagoon.

The one-day race was thoroughly enjoyed by all involved and the event is guaranteed to grow alongside its big sister the Vaka Eiva Festival.

Its hard to look past the circus that is the nations national sports body CISNOC.

The body is insolvent and needs $800,000 to pay its debts, maintain operations and send athletes to this years Olympic Games in London.

CISNOC president Sir Geoffrey Henry claims CISNOC has been in trouble since before he took on the position in 2009 and so whats in store for athletes in 2012? more $2 sausage sizzles, ice cream begging bowls for round island run-a-thons and continual denial that CISNOC is in trouble and the body needs an overhaul starting from the top.

However, credit where credit is due hats off to Robert Graham and Siniva Marsters who are outstanding sports administrators.

The pair have trooped on through slashed pay cheques and work hours to make sure that local athletes get what they deserve some basic support.