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Australia revelled in its first Pacific Games

Monday 20 July 2015 | Published in Regional


PORT MORESBY – Australia capped off its first Pacific Games competition with 47 medals. It was not only a successful campaign for the athletes, but a journey full of cultural appreciation and respect for the Pacific Games writes Annie Kearney of Olympics Australia.

Invited to compete in four sports, 43 Australian athletes took on the Pacific nations in weightlifting, rugby sevens, sailing and taekwondo. It won a total of 47 medals and placed fifth overall behind PNG, New Caledonia, Tahiti, Fiji and Samoa.

It was not only a successful campaign for the athletes, but a journey full of cultural appreciation and respect for the Pacific Games.

Australian Chef de Mission and dual Olympic gold medallist in sailing, Malcolm Page said Papua New Guinea had been a fantastic host.

“The spirit here has been incredible, an amazing welcoming for Australia at its first Pacific Games,” he said.

“Although we didn’t have many Australian supporters here it really felt like PNG adopted us as a nation and our athletes performed exceptionally well in tough competition.”

“From what I’ve heard PNG has taken to the Pacific Games to a new level. The facilities are world class and the village is equal to any Olympic Games I’ve been to. I think they have an amazing legacy for the future.”

Pacific Games Council Chief Executive Andrew Minogue regards Australia’s first Games as a success.

“On the evidence we have seen in the four sports, Australia and New Zealand have added to the competition and the quality of the competition. The crowd has been appreciative of both countries athletes.

“My personal highlight was the rugby sevens final between Australia and Fiji. It was a thrilling game, a sport this region loves. Australia really took to it Fiji and it signified to me that when pacific athletes dedicate themselves to excellence they can match Australia.”

Rugby sevens athlete Tanisha Stanton said it was great to play against other Pacific nations.

“It’s been an absolutely great experience and great opportunity for me as a new player trying to crack that top team to get some experience on the field, especially against Fiji. I need to be competing against teams like that.”

While head coach Tim Walsh said he expects some players to join the Australian Team in the World Series competition next year.

“Out of here there’s got to be a couple of players who will step up in the World Series and then you never know a couple for 2016 Rio Olympics,” he said.

For Minogue, another highlight was Erika Ropati-Frost claiming two gold medals in the women’s weightlifting.

The Queenslander was gracious in victory after she beat home crowd hero, PNG’s Dika Toua. Ropati-Frost had never beaten Toua in their ten year rivalry.

Ropati-Frost said the atmosphere was fantastic.

“I couldn’t hold the tears back.. The crowd was fantastic, one of the best crowds I’ve ever competed in front of.”

The weightlifting venue also saw another crowd stopping moment with legally blind Australian weightlifter Malek Chamoun taking home three medals – gold in the snatch and silver in the clean and jerk and overall.

The 2014 Commonwealth Games athlete said it was his best international total.

“My snatch was awesome, to get the 139kg was huge. The crowd was buzzing, so much energy. It’s the best crowd I’ve ever had,” said Chamoun.

“I’m just happy. These are the best medals I’ve ever had.”

In the sailing, Australia’s three athletes Carissa Bridge, Mark Spearman and Thomas Vincent claimed three medals, in the pristine water at the Royal Papua Yacht Club.

Victoria’s Vincent took home bronze and West Australian Spearman gold, in the laser class. The pair combined to take home the Team gold medal.

While Bridge faced a tough challenge from the Cook Islands but managed to snag bronze in the laser radial.

For the three young sailors it was an unforgettable experience as they look towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

“It was a really awesome event. There was a lot of really tough racing between me, Tom and Maxime Mazard of New Caledonia and you just had to be working really hard the whole event. It was really good to win gold,” Spearman said.

“It’s good to meet other Aussies who have a passion for sport like this. We got to see the rugby girls and the weightlifters compete. The whole experience has been really good, the competition and the way it is over here – it’s like we’re at the Olympics it’s pretty cool,” said Vincent.

For 17-year-old Bridge, the Games was her first international regatta.

“It was great racing and I’ve learnt a few things it’s challenging for me in these big winds so it’s something to work on for the next races,” she said.

“It’s been great having all the other countries’ competitors here, it’s made it a really enjoyable week.”

In Australia’s last event at the Games, the taekwondo Team finished the event on a high.

The 13 athletes came away with 13 medals over two days of competition.

On the Thursday, Carmen and Caroline Marton both claimed gold in their respective divisions. While their brother Jack and Carmen’s husband, London Olympian Safwan Khalil also claimed Games victories on the Friday.

Khalil said the competition was a success.

“I think the organisation has been great, the buses to and from fantastic and the level of competition has been really high.

“There’s always something happening. It’s been very entertaining. All the locals and the Pacific nations they’re loving this and they’re expressing it loud and proud.”