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Saturday 13 June 2015 | Published in Regional


PORT MORESBY – Of the 554 athletes that will compete for Papua New Guinea on home soil at the 2015 Pacific Games, 261 are women, and for many of them it’s been a hard road to make it to their country’s sporting elite.

But the advent of a high-performance centre in the build up to the games has provided an enormous boost for female athletes in particular, as they prepare to compete on the big stage.

The women flying the flag for PNG in the games next month are determined to make more corporate sponsors sit up and take notice. They want to make a statement about the power of women in PNG society.

As a games ambassador, volleyball player Lois Garena has become a familiar voice on PNG radio.

When she’s not training for the games, she works as a programmes and logistics coordinator for the high-performance centre in Port Moresby.

Her team has high hopes of taking gold next month, but she says keeping the squad together after that may be hard.

“It is a struggle with the challenges we have getting new people into the team. In Papua New Guinea we have our duties, some are mothers, there are others who would like to start a family, and we’re always having to change the team,” Garena said.

“But if we were to be successful at the games, then I think things would change in a big way. It will show women what can be achieved in sport through dedication.”

For most, if not all, the PNG team members, the games are very much about family.

Many have relatives competing alongside them, while others like power lifter Linda Pulsan just want to make their family proud.

“I want my family to see that I can do something,” Pulsan said. “I have to and I will try my best. I have trained well at the high-performance centre, and got some sponsorship that enabled me to train in Australia as well.

“Home support will make a big difference. I’m happy and I’m ready.” Touch football is one example where the games will provide a perfect stage to promote a sport that is less familiar to a PNG audience. How many people in Papua New Guinea know that the women’s touch team, captained by Vavine Yore, is ranked third in the world after the recent World Cup in Australia?

“That’s been a major morale booster for us, physically, mentally, and the team’s really looking forward to the games,” she said.

“My father is the founding president of touch football in PNG so I am playing for him, as much as for myself and the country, so I’m looking forward to winning gold for my dad!”

And – never mind the Williams sisters – the queens of tennis in PNG are Abigail and Marcia Tere-Apisah.

Both play on the college circuit in the United States, and the inevitable comparisons are being made with Serena and Venus. “We’ve got that a lot and I’d certainly like to be the top player on my team in school to start with at least,” Marcia said.

“And coming into the PNG games, it’s going to be great because we have my nieces playing as well, but it will be tough too because we know very little about the other players.

“So a lot of pressure on us, but Abigail and I have each other, and if we work together, we’ll be fine.”

While the use of a high-performance centre has made a massive difference to Team PNG’s preparations for the games, basic practice facilities are often still hard to come by.

The women’s basketball squad found themselves training on a poorly-maintained outdoor court when none of the very few indoor courts in the capital were available.

But their coach Salape Parapa has seen it all before, having captained the PNG team to gold when the games were last held in Port Moresby 24 years ago.

“The most important thing is to make the best of what we have. Your attitude towards training, your commitment will help you get there, regardless of where you train,” she said.

And home support will certainly help too.

Salape remembers well the role that family played in pulling together a shell-shocked crowd in 1991, when PNG trailed Tahiti at half-time in that historic gold medal match. “The score was 15-31 and you could here a pin drop.

People were saying ‘are this team really serious about winning’?” he said. “My daughter was in the crowd and she said ‘oh yeah’ and people around her said ‘why’ and she said ‘because my mother is the captain and I know they’re going to come back’.” With less than a month to go to the games, much of the PNG media’s attention is on how many gold medals the country can win, and whether, as in 1991, they can top the table.

And the desire for gold is just as great among the women as the men, but above all Lois Garena says they want PNG sports fans to sit up and take notice, and be proud of their female athletes. “We’ve prepared for it and we’re going to soak in the atmosphere. We know our families and the crowd will be behind us. We’re going to enjoy the moment,” she said.