Micronesian Games open in Majuro

PHOTO: Marianas Variety/ Giff Johnson

The Micronesian Games kicked off in Majuro Saturday night with a gala celebration that featured sports delegations from the 10 islands in the sub-region parading in uniform with flags and banners along a newly opened track field, a rarely performed traditional stick dance of the Marshall Islands, a Marshall Islands flag dance, and numerous local and off-island bands performing. It ended with a fireworks display. 

The holding of the Micronesian Games in Majuro demonstrates “resilience” of the country that faced Covid and severe power generation problems in the lead up to Saturday’s opening, said Games Organizing Committee Chairman Tony Muller. 

Two hours before the evening start, black clouds rolled over Majuro, deluging the capital with rain and flooding roads. But 30 minutes before the start, the skies cleared and the rain held off for the rest of the night, allowing the program to move forward unimpeded by weather. The rain blessing was noted by speakers at the opening. 

Several thousand local residents packed the track field to see the opening program for the biggest event in the history of the Marshall Islands. Over 1,000 athletes from other islands together with over 200 from the Marshall Islands will compete in 13 sporting events over the course of 10 days. 

Three-on-three basketball and beach volleyball competitions had started earlier in the day Saturday in order for all sports events to be completed in the June 15-24 time frame of this 10th edition of the Micronesian Games. As expected, team Guam dominated both events. 

Muller, who is also a Cabinet minister, was joined by President Hilda Heine, and Member of Parliament Wilber Heine on stage Saturday night to officially launch the Games. 

The Marshall Islands most-medaled athlete, wrestling coach Waylon Muller, performed the honor of lighting the Micronesian Games flame as part of the opening. 

Many of the delegations featured athletes dressed in traditional island outfits for the opening ceremony. Islands participating include Palau, Yap, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae, Nauru, Kiribati and the hosts Marshall Islands. 

The Games were originally scheduled for 2022, in keeping with the every-four-year schedule of this regional competition. But that plan was scuttled by Covid border entry restrictions, which were still in effect in most Pacific islands, preventing travel to Majuro. The Games were bumped to July-August last year, but even coming out of Covid it was quickly determined early in 2023 that the two big sports facilities — the expansive new track and field and baseball facility and the national gymnasium — would not be complete in time for competition last year. So this 10th edition of the Games was bumped yet again to June 15-24, 2024. 

Muller said despite the challenges facing the Marshall Islands to put on the Micronesian Games — such as Covid, climate change, and power generation problems — “we are proving to the world that we are resilient.” 

Meanwhile, the medal podium for the swimming competition in the 2024 Micronesian Games was filled with Team Marianas swimmers, who hailed four gold medals, one silver, and one bronze in the opening day of the swim races at the Kwajalein Pool in Majuro, the Marshall Islands, Sunday. 

It was a sweep of the first four medals at stake on Day 1 for Team Marianas with Kean Pajarillaga and Maria Batallones delivering the golds in the individual event and the NMI swimmers topping the mixed 200yd freestyle relay and 400yd medley relay. 

Pajarillaga won the first gold medal in the Micro Games as he ruled the men’s 1,650yd freestyle race with a time of 17:07.74 and defeated five other swimmers. His fellow NMI swimmer, Justin Ma, got the bronze after clocking in at 18:25.24. Pohnpei’s Kyler Kihleng completed the podium with his silver medal and time of 17:30.60. 

In the women’s 1,650yd freestyle, Team Marianas had a 1-2 finish with Batallones taking the gold with a time of 19:32.65 and Frances Raho getting the silver with her 20:05.97. Palau’s Galyah Mikel claimed the bronze after submitting 20:56.07. 

In the mixed 200yd freestyle relay, Isaiah Aleksenko, Maria Guerrero, Pajarillaga and Shoko Litulumar posted 1:36.66 for the NMI’s third gold medal. Palau came in at second with a time of 1:39.57, while host Marshall Islands won its first medal in the Micro Games after placing third in the relay with a time of 1:39.96. 

For the last event of Day 2 at the Kwajalein Pool, Batallones joined forces with Kouki Watanabe, Aleksenko and Raho for another gold medal for the NMI as the quartet reigned supreme in the mixed 400yd medley relay with a time of 3:52.10. The Team Marianas swimmers finished the race way ahead of Palau (4:05.61) and Pohnpei (4:16.27). 

Softball, weightlifting, beach v-ball 

The NMI Women’s Fast-pitch Softball Team will have its long-awaited debut in the Micro Games when it takes on host Marshall Islands today, Monday, at 10 a.m. in Majuro (8 a.m. Saipan time). 

The opening day of the softball competition will also feature the two other teams in the field — Palau and Pohnpei — as they collide in the 4 p.m. match. The competition format is round-robin in the preliminary and double elimination in the playoffs. 

“Numbers were drawn to settle who would play for the opening game of the three-day tournament. We’ll have the privilege to play against the home team RMI in the first ever softball game held at their new facility. After the conclusion of the two games, we will have a clearer idea of how the schedule will look and have a better idea how our opponents play,” team manager Manny Sablan said. 

In weightlifting, Jaden Andrew and Leo Cristobal will compete in the men’s 67kg class today, Monday, starting at 11 a.m. at the International Convention Center, while Kaya Rasa will have her event for the 59kg class at 2 p.m. The rest of the team, Riella Ichiuo (76kg), NMI flag bearer Antonette Labausa (81kg), Lucio Eugenio (96kg), and Joseph Pangelinan (89), will have their respective competitions on Tuesday, June 18. 

In beach volleyball, Team Marianas’ Aurora Santos and Kathy Winkfield hold a 2-1 record after the first two days of the competition to remain in medal contention. Santos and Winkfield defeated the Marshalls and Nauru but lost to Guam. The duo will have its last match in the prelims Monday morning against Palau. 

In the men’s division, Jermaine Salas and Dyan Mister have a 1-2 mark, winning against the  Marshalls and losing to Nauru and Palau over the weekend. The pair will conclude its prelims assignment against Kiribati in the 11 a.m. match Monday morning. Medal matches in beach volleyball will be played this Tuesday. 

Athletics, basketball teams arrive in Majuro 

Team Marianas’ athletics and basketball squads reached the Marshall Islands Sunday night to join tennis, softball, weightlifting, and beach volleyball at the Athletes Village in Majuro. With the two groups making it to the Marshalls, only the NMI National Wrestling Team is left on Saipan, as it won’t be arriving in Majuro until this Wednesday, June 19. 

The NMI Women’s Basketball Team will see action right away as it plays Nauru today, Monday, at 5:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m. Saipan time) at the Educational Cultural Center. The NMI is in Group B of the pool play in women’s basketball, joining Chuuk, the Marshall Islands, and Nauru. Defending champion Guam is in Pool A with Kiribati and Pohpei. 

In the men’s division, the NMI is in Pool A with Guam, Chuuk, Kiribati, and Pohnpei. The NMI Men’s Basketball Team will take a rest today, Monday, as its first game is not until Tuesday at 1 p.m. (11 a.m. Saipan time), against Kiribati. Pool B has Kosrae, the Marshals, Nauru, Palau, and Yap. 

After its arrival in Majuro, the 22-member NMI athletics delegation will have a two-day rest, as they won’t be competing at the track until 19 June .

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