Pacific athletes have done exceptionally well in this year’s Commonwealth Games, which came to an end this week. Teams from our Pacific shores finished the games with 13 medals – 1 gold, 7 silver, and 5 bronze.
Samoa had the most success for our Pacific contingent, winning four medals from weightlifting and one from boxing.
Samoa’s lone gold medal victory was by Samoa weightlifter Don Opeloge. Weightlifting teammates Jack Opeloge, Feagaiga Stowers and Nevo Ioane won silver medals for Samoa. Heavyweight boxer Tupuola Ato Plodzicki-Faoagali won a silver medal after a loss to England in the gold medal match. However, this was only possible after a gruelling semi-finals bout against fellow Pacific Islander Duken Tutakitoa-Williams of Niue. The Niuean slugger was ahead at first but a dominant third round finish by Plodzicki-Faoagali swayed all four judges’ decisions to his favour in the end.
Fiji’s flamboyant 7s stars reached the grand final for men and women, but had to settle for the silver medals. South Africa dominated in the men’s final whilst Australia conducted a rugby 7s clinic to completely outclass the Fijianas. Fiji also won two bronze medals; Taniela Rainibogi (weightlifter) and para-athlete Naibili Vatunisolo (Fiji’s flag bearer) in the women’s discus.
Papua New Guinea also featured a strong contingent for Birmingham 2022 but like all Pacific Islands teams, faced stiff competition in their events. Toea Wisil ran her best race in the women’s 200m with a time of 24.42seconds as she qualified for the semi-finals. But that was as far as she went as the reigning Pacific sprint queen bowed out of competition and looks forward to her retirement. It was with weightlifter Morea Baru that PNG managed to win in the men’s 61kg category to claim a silver medal victory for his beloved PNG.
Nauru, possibly the smallest county to be participating in Birmingham 2022 in terms of both population and geography, finished with a lone bronze medal victory. Young 19-year-old weightlifter Maximina Uepa managed that feat as she did her best in the 76kg women’s category final round. It is a sweet victory for Nauru, considered one of the best weightlifting island nations in the South Pacific region.
Niue’s bronze medal victory as heavyweight boxer Duken Tutakitoa-Williams semi-final loss already guaranteed him a bronze medal having reached thus far – that’s one of the perks of indulging in the gruesome sport of boxing I guess, considering the high risk of injuries that boxers endure in the ring. However, this was a special victory for the ‘Rock of Polynesia’ as it records its first ever medal in the history of the Commonwealth Games.
Team Vanuatu was a small contingent that was centred around its women’s beach volleyball team. But the ladies from Vanuatu lived up to the pre-games hype to undeniably win a bronze medal for their beloved island country home. Despite having being denied a grand final berth at first by Australia, Sherysyn Toko and Miller Pata defeated the New Zealand duo of Shaunna Polley and Alice Zeimann in a thrilling third set decider. Whilst this was a memorable win for Vanuatu, the pair could be a force to be reckoned with in women’s beach volleyball come the next Olympics in Paris 2024.
Also although not being able to reach the podium but some of our athletes deserve to be in our honourable mentions column; the men’s 4 x 100m swimming team from Fiji recorded its first ever finals berth in the commonwealth games. They came fifth during the heat but it was enough to qualify them for the relay final. And not forgetting young 20-year-old Timson Irowane, our triathlete from Solomon Islands, and Edna Boafob our heptathlete from Papua New Guinea. It takes a unique type of person to choose these sorts of sports as a career – especially where one is required to have the total package of a strong mind and body backed up with an ounce of sheer determination and will.
In summing up, Samoa sits at 19th place; Fiji is 29th and PNG at 35th while Nauru, Niue and Vanuatu were levelled at 40th place overall. This was surely a proud moment for our Pacific island athletes as they returned home with the medals from Birmingham 2022.
And our Pacific big brothers Australia and New Zealand finished at the top end of the medal tally. New Zealand came in at 5th place while Australia took out top honors in 1st place overall.