The Pacific Games concluded with New Caledonia as the clear winner

New Caledonia men’s football players celebrate victory over Solomon Islands (Photo: Danzo Kakadi/Pacific Games News Service)

The New Caledonia delegation finished the 18th edition of the Pacific Games at the top of the medal table. With 197 medals, including 82 golds, they solidified their position as the best, followed by the next Games’ host, Tahiti, who surpassed the giant Australia with 160 medals, including 57 golds.

The XVII edition of the Pacific Games ended with a closing celebration where 24 national contingents participated. Honiara’s National Stadium was adorned for the occasion to bid farewell to the best 5000 Oceania athletes, who competed in 24 sports. The standout winner was New Caledonia with 197 medals (82 gold, 57 silver, and 58 bronze).

The closing ceremony began with thousands of volunteers parading around the National Stadium, playing a crucial role in the Games’ success and receiving cheers for their distinctive uniforms. The festivities continued with a fascinating parade of all participating countries, accompanied by heartfelt farewells to departing teams.

Vidhya Lakhan, the President of the Pacific Games Council (PGC), expressed admiration for the athletic talent showcased during the two weeks of competition and emphasised the deeper cultural significance embedded in the Pacific Games. With gratitude, he acknowledged the efforts of those who contributed to the event’s success, including volunteers, school children performers, ministries, organisers, and sponsors.

Lakhan praised the Games for surpassing expectations in terms of participation, organisation, venue quality, and competitive standards. He commended the government and people of the Solomon Islands, led by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, for the successful hosting of the Games, strengthening bonds not only within the Solomon Islands but also among the peoples of the Pacific.

The night concluded with a concert featuring artists from the Solomon Islands and a spectacular fireworks display.

Before that, Australia secured six golds in boxing, which weren’t enough to secure the second spot in the medal table. Chothia (Men’s 51kg Flyweight); Suraci (Women’s 50kg Light Flyweight); Rahimi (Women’s 57kg Feature weight); Garside (Men’s 63.5kg Light Welterweight); Teremoana (Men’s 92+kg Super Heavyweight), and Davey (Men’s 71kg Light Middleweight) heard their national anthem after their performances in the Solomon Islands.

The medals in Beach Volleyball were also insufficient for the Australian team, which achieved a double in both men’s and women’s categories at the Honiara SIFF Academy on Saturday. Jana Milutinovic and Stefie Fejes triumphed in the women’s gold medal match, defeating the host Solomon Islands 2-0 (21-9, 21-10).

Returning to boxing, it is worth remembering that Papua New Guinea (PNG) emerged as the undisputed power in boxing at these Games, securing a staggering 11 medals: six gold, two silver, and three bronze. PNG’s gold medalists included Steven Kendu (75 kg male), Change Jamie (54 kg female), Kantie Oaike (48 kg male), Bali Goli (48 kg female), Sheila Yama (70 kg female), and Petronella Nokenoke (63 kg female). Silver medalists included Leontine Kevin (70 kg female) and Peto Junior Turaga (48 kg male), while bronze medalists were Bid Inoino (54 kg male), Laizani Soma (63 kg female), and Liranda Kidu (70 kg female).

On the last day of the Games, the Saturday events also included sailing at DC Park, where New Caledonia added two more gold medals to their tally. In women’s windsurfing, Solenn Paule Gourand from New Caledonia won gold, her teammate Sarah Hebert took silver, and Australian Amelia Wilson secured bronze. In the men’s individual auxiliary boat race, Etienne Le Pen from New Caledonia won gold, Eroni Leilua from Samoa won silver, and Australian Isaac Schotte won bronze. In the men’s team auxiliary boat race, New Caledonia won gold, Australia won silver, and Samoa won bronze.

In football, the Solomon Islands couldn’t triumph at home, losing to New Caledonia. When the entire island seemed to be hopeful after Orobulu’s equaliser in the 72nd minute (2-2), earning the right to decide the gold ‘from the penalty spot,’ the medallists of these Games were sharper in the dramatic penalty shootout (9-8), securing the gold in a packed National Stadium on Saturday.

Johann Sidaner, the coach of New Caledonia, expressed admiration for the team’s resilience, acknowledging the challenges of facing the Solomon Islands at home: ‘It was a tough match going up against the Solomon Islands on home turf with a huge crowd. Despite the heat, we held on tight right until the end,’ Sidaner said.

Meanwhile, Fiji’s men’s football team secured the bronze medal on Friday, defeating Vanuatu 4-2.

In another popular sport, Samoa succeeded in their campaign to win all three gold medals in contact rugby at the Pacific Games Sol 2023, overcoming defending champions Papua New Guinea (PNG) in DC Park on Saturday by 7-6, achieving the triple medal (gold in mixed touch rugby, men’s, and women’s). Fiji settled for the bronze, defeating the Cook Islands 12-5.

Finally, the last day of the Pacific Games had Guam as protagonists in 3×3 basketball. They successfully defended their 3×3 basketball gold medal by defeating Fiji in the men’s category. In the women’s category, Tahiti secured their first 3×3 basketball gold medal, defeating Fiji, the gold medallist from Samoa 2019, by 11-7. New Caledonia settled for the bronze after defeating PNG 21-5 in the men’s division, while the Cook Islands defeated New Caledonia 21-12 to claim the bronze in the women’s division.

Tonga finally achieved its goal of reversing what was done in Samoa 2019 in netball and becoming the champion of the Pacific Games Sol 2023 for the first time at the Friendship Hall on Saturday. Until now, only two nations (Fiji and the Cook Islands) had won the netball tournament at the Pacific Games. The thrilling XVII Games came to an end after an organisation that met and even exceeded expectations, with athletes giving their all and cleanly achieving their medals, demonstrating the spirit of sports fraternity above individual achievements, something characteristic of these Games. The Solomon Islands bids farewell in grand style, handing over the baton for the next Pacific Games to Tahiti 2027, which will undoubtedly bring emotions, records, and the resilience of many of these athletes, as well as the emergence of new generations.