SOL23: New Caledonia leads medal tally

Photo: Brian Hagi/Pacific Games News Service

New Caledonia continues to lead the medal tally at the 2023 Pacific Games in Solomon Islands with 23 gold medals, and 60 medals in total.

Australia holds second place with 21 gold medals, with Samoa in third with 10 golds.

Some of the most recent highlights follow.

Archery 

Australian archers have proven their marksmanship again as they bagged gold medals during the second day of archery at DC Park on Wednesday.

Australian Olympian Ryan Tyack bagged gold, Peter Boukouvalas settled for silver and Tahitian Jean-Pierre Winkelstroeter won bronze in the men’s single 720 round 70m recurve bow.

In a double win for Tyack, he and Australian teammate Laura Paeglis qualified for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in the mixed team category, via the Olympic qualifying competition running concurrently at Sol2023.

The 21-year-old Paeglis told the Pacific Games News Service: “It has been an amazing experience, and it feels incredible to have won. This is personally my first opportunity to win a quota spot for my country, so I am ecstatic.”

A total of 66 archers from nine countries competed in the women’s and men’s divisions for 70m and 50m, respectively.

In Wednesday’s Para archery teams events, Tahiti team snatched gold and silver while Solomon Islands settled for a hard-earned bronze.

Solomon Islands Para archery athlete Bobby Sunaone said: “Our five months of preparation finally paid off.”

Tuesday’s archery action saw the women’s compound single 720 round 50m, in which New Caledonia’s Caroline Balber hit gold with 613 points, Tahitian Aurere Cottet got silver with 587 points, and Ana Fifita of Tonga claimed a bronze medal with 569 points.

Volleyball 

The men’s and women’s volleyball competitions continued at Honiara’s Friendship Hall on Wednesday, with Samoa, New Caledonia, American Samoa and Papua New Guinea (PNG) posting victories in the men’s tournament to book their places in the quarter-finals.

In a captivating showcase of skill and determination, Samoa emerged triumphant against Tonga, securing an emphatic 3-0 win to progress to the next stage of the competition.

“We’re thrilled to be here, and I’m very excited about reaching the quarterfinals,” said Samoa’s Glen Young Yen, reflecting the team’s enthusiasm for their stellar performance.

Simultaneously on the adjacent court, New Caledonia displayed their dominance against Solomon Islands, clinching a 3-0 victory. Speaking on behalf of New Caledonia, their assistant coach Bouverwe underscored the youthfulness of their squad.

“We’re excited about today’s win because our team is very young. We take each match one by one, and we’re proud to play against Team Solomon. Looking ahead, we anticipate tough matches and aim to reach the final for the gold,” said Bouverwe, highlighting the team’s ambitions.

In another notable match, American Samoa secured a 3-1 victory over Tuvalu, marking a significant achievement for the team. The American Samoa team coach expressed satisfaction with the performance, acknowledging the strength of both teams.

Concluding the day’s men’s volleyball matches, PNG achieved a 3-2 victory over Tahiti in an intense clash. Ronald Omoa, the team manager for PNG men’s volleyball, praised the team’s performance and expressed confidence in their journey towards the quarterfinals. 

In women’s volleyball, the quarterfinals began. Tahiti beat Tuvalu 3-0, American Samoa beat Samoa 3-2, and New Caledonia knocked out hosts Solomon Islands 3-0.

Windsurfing 

New Caledonia continued their dominance in Pacific Games sailing, as more exciting and intense races played out on Wednesday at DC Park in Honiara.

New Caledonia sailor Samuel Launay still maintains first place in the men’s sailboard light (windsurfing) event. In the men’s sailboard heavy (windsurfing) event, fellow New Caledonia sailor Laurent Cali also tops the leaderboard, with first place finishes in all his races so far.

In the female women’s individual dinghy sailing, Australia’s Evie Saunders continued to maintain first place finishes in all four races so far, with Fiji’s Sophia Morgan coming second, and Australian Ellen Sampson in third.

Wednesday’s competitors in the women laser single dinghies consisted of two from Solomon Islands and one sailor each from New Caledonia, Samoa, and Australia. The seven male windsurfers are from Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Tahiti, Australia, Wallis and Futuna, Samoa, and Fiji.

The start of the morning races was delayed as wind conditions did not pick up as quickly as expected but the wind improved later to set up some really exciting races as both the men’s sailboard (windsurfing) and women’s individual dinghy sailing continued.

In the first half of the day, three races were completed for men’s lightweight and heavyweight, as well as women’s single. Another three in the afternoon were for men’s windsurfing only. The women’s laser single dinghy was cancelled after lunch as the start was again delayed due to a strong wind warning and high swells.

Australian Windsurfer Jarrod Jones said: “I’m pretty happy with how I’m going so far. It’s definitely a great learning opportunity, great experience and I’m really grateful to be here.”

Swimming

The most exciting day of swimming so far at the Sol2023 Pacific Games saw two new Pacific Games records, a huge upset and more gold for countries not traditionally known for scooping multiple swimming medals at Honiara’s Aquatic Centre on Wednesday.

Samoa opened the night’s medal proceedings courtesy of Olivia Borg, who won gold in the women’s 50m freestyle with a time of 26.65 seconds. New Caledonia’s Malou Douillard (26.88) and Fiji’s Anahira McCutcheon (26.91) battled it out for silver and bronze with the New Caledonian eventually emerging second leaving the bronze for Fiji.

Speaking to the Pacific Games News Service, Borg said: “It just feels amazing to represent my culture and my nan died last year whilst I was at the Commonwealth Games so to get all of these medals, I’m definitely dedicating this to her.”

McCutcheon, who had to recover from missing out on a bronze medal on Tuesday in the 50m breaststroke told the Pacific Games News Service that she was both surprised and proud to reach the podium this time.

“I put it (the disqualification) behind me and mainly focused on my races like 50 back (50m backstroke) and my race today and what’s in the past is in the past. I’m really happy and proud.”

Fiji silenced the crowd in the men’s 50m freestyle, an unusual occurrence at the Aquatic Centre, in the biggest upset of the night claiming both the gold and silver medals, leaving New Caledonia’s gold and silver medallists from this event at Samoa 2019 in fifth and sixth place overall. Hansel McCaig of Fiji secured gold with a time of 23.22 seconds, his fellow countryman David Young (23.29) claimed silver and Samoa’s Hector Langkilde (23.37) joined in on the drama, snatching bronze from lane eight.

McCaig’s gold is his first individual gold at any Pacific Games and also Fiji’s first gold medal at Sol2023. The proud Fijian swimmer said: “New Cal (New Caledonia) are traditionally the sprint champions so for us to dethrone them at this Games is a big achievement. The fact that we both (McCaig and Young) dethroned New Cal as well as Samoa taking the bronze and for it being an island sweep is an amazing feeling.

“As soon as we touched, the loudest people were the Fijians and I’m always thankful for them for always coming out to support us whether we win or not,” a delighted McCaig said about the Fijian supporters at swimming.

Langkilde said: “To be honest, I did not expect myself to get third especially starting in lane eight but I’m really happy with the results. It means everything, getting up and getting a medal. This is a good feeling.”

In the women’s 200m butterfly, it was no surprise that Lara Grangeon-De-Villele of New Caledonia, dominated again, claiming gold with an eight-second lead and a final time of 2 minutes and 15.18 seconds. Olivia Borg (2:23.21) from Samoa picked up silver in her first final with Grangeon-De-Villele and Tahiti’s Deotille Videau (2:23.48) finished with bronze.

The national anthem of Northern Mariana Islands played for the first time at swimming as Isaiah Aleksenko watched on proudly after convincingly winning gold in the men’s 200m butterfly with a time of 2 minutes and 5.86 seconds. Nael Roux (2:09.52) from Tahiti won silver and Baptiste Savignac (2:11.80) won bronze.

“I was so happy seeing my flag go up. It’s an honour to see and I hope I could do this in the future again and I’m very grateful for this opportunity,” Aleksenko proudly told the Pacific Games News Service.

In the 200m backstroke Pacific Games records were broken in both the women’s and the men’s races by New Caledonia’s Lara Grangeon-De-Villele and John-William Dabin. The previous Pacific Games record set by Lauren Sale in the women’s 200m backstroke was 2 minutes and 19.89 seconds at Samoa 2019. The previous Pacific Games record in the men’s 200m backstroke set in 1999 by Olivier Saminadin was 2 minutes and 8.31 seconds.

But in Honiara, Grangeon-De-Villele set a new Pacific Games record of 2 minutes and 19.62 seconds in the preliminary heats on her way to win gold. Her gold winning performance was nearly as impressive (2:19.71). Salani Sa’aga (2:28.93) of Samoa won silver and Videau (2:29.06) claimed bronze.

Sa’aga said: “It’s my first Games and I was genuinely surprised I got the second-place medal. It’s unreal. I’m so grateful for this opportunity and winning the medal just consolidated the hard work that I put in for the past six months.”

In the men’s 200m backstroke, 2 minutes and 6.83 seconds is the new Pacific Games record set by John-William Dabin of New Caledonia. Setting this new record secured gold for Dabin after an upsetting loss in the men’s 50m freestyle. Chrissander Cerda (2:08.75) also of New Caledonia finished with silver and Tahiti’s Rohutu Teahui (2:10.37) got bronze.

The women’s 800m freestyle saw Grangeon-De-Villele pick up her third gold medal of the night with a final time of 9 minutes and 10.24 seconds. Maiana Flament (9:22.21) also from New Caledonia and not new to the podium finished second, and Lili Paillisse (9:27.91) from Tahiti finished third.

This gold medal brought Grangeon-De-Villele’s total medal count at Sol2023 to seven golds.

“I am very happy because it is a good night. The weather is good, so I won these medals and I know my other teammates from other sports are also winning gold medals,” she said.

As is tradition, the night ended with the mixed 4 x 50m relay in which New Caledonia redeemed themselves, securing gold with a time of 1:51.62 ahead of Fiji (1:52.01), who made it to the podium for silver. Tahiti (1:52.30) finished with bronze.

Day four of swimming will feature more action at the Aquatic Centre with the finals from 6.30pm (Solomons time).

Weightlifting 

The weightlifting competition at the 2023 Pacific Games has been a family affair for the host country’s nationals, Stan and Rovena Donga, who clinched three bronzes each for their country.

The eldest of the family, Stan, continued his sister Rowena’s feat from Monday, winning three medals in the men’s 67 kg category and thus emulating his sister’s triple bronze in the women’s under 49kg category.

The 25-year-old displayed absolute strength on the second day of competition, with a total lift of 238 kg in the men’s 67 kg weight category.

Rugby 7s

Team Fiji will have to start plotting its own path at the Pacific Games if a top three finish is to be achieved.

This starts today as sevens rugby, which is a top bet to win both men’s and women’s gold will be in action.

The women play Wallis and Futuna at 6.24pm, while men meet American Samoa at 8.24pm (Fiji time).

Medal standings: https://www.sol2023.com.sb/medal/

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