By Daniel Kerwin, Port Moresby 2015 Games New Service
PORT MORESBY, July 14 – Fiji wrapped up its Port Moresby 2015 Pacific Games karate campaign exactly as it had been hoping, taking gold in both the women’s and men’s team kumite events on Tuesday at BSP Arena.
“We’ve been trying for over, I think, three Pacific Games to take the team event,” Fiji’s Naomi Bakani said. “We’re really happy that we took the team gold, that was the most important one for us.”
The pair of victories allowed Fiji a late surge in the overall medal count for karate, placing it in a tie with New Caledonia atop the list with seven gold medals apiece.
The day’s earlier individual events saw New Caledonia and Fiji each take a pair of golds, while Papua New Guinea’s Nigel Bana energized the crowd with his victory in the men’s up to 60kg kumite event.
Bakani and Adi Drodrolagi Kidia set up the dramatic ending for Fiji with their victory in the women’s team kumite, only for the Fijian men to up the emotion by defeating New Caledonia in their final by the narrowest of margins.
With a back-and-forth men’s final coming down to the deciding fifth bout, Pacific Games rookie Alexander Darroch (FIJ) gritted out a 1-0 victory against Kenny Guillem (NCL) to seal the victory.
“Alex is the newest member, the number five fighter, and we’re calling him ‘Alexander the Great,’ because he brought the team home,” Fiji coach Anthony Hails said.
“That fighter that he fought against (Guillem) has done a lot of work, and Alex has only been out twice. So as a relative novice, he brought the team home.”
Darroch faced extra pressure in his match as New Caledonia held the tiebreaker, having scored more combined points in the other matchups.
“I was really over-pressured, because if New Caledonia scored, that would be their win,” Darroch said. “I just kept my composure, I just thought of everything, and I did the job.”
New Caledonia entered the day with a two gold medal advantage over Fiji, but Fiji quickly erased the deficit with victories by Joji Veremalua in the men’s up to 75 kg event and Kidia in the women’s up to 61kg event.
Vermalua eked out a 1-0 victory in the final against Honoiti Lien (TAH), while Kidia had more room to breathe in a 6-0 victory against Catherine Wilson (PNG).
“We have a buddy system going, he’s actually my buddy, so it’s really nice to see him win,” Kidia said of Vermalua.
“We’re all just happy for each other.”
In the men’s up to 60kg final, Bana fed off of the home crowd’s energy in a no-doubt victory against Sandip Pala (FIJ).
Bana gave credit to many for helping him to win gold – his coaches, fellow athletes and the Papua New Guinea government’s investment in sports prior to the Games among them.
“The name and the gold is mine, but there are hidden champions behind the scenes who helped me to come this far,” Bana said.
New Caledonia’s gold medals on Tuesday came from Morane Vacher in the women’s individual open kumite event and Frederic Roumagne in the men’s individual open kumite.
Vacher earned the gold on a judge’s decision after fighting to a 1-1 tie against Vaitiare Tehaameamea (TAH).
Roumagne followed immediately after with another 1-1 tie in his match against Tumu Lango (VAN), also needing a vote by the judges to earn his title.
“He wasn’t bad, his tactics posed some problems for me,” Roumage said of Lango. “I was looking and looking for an opening to get one point to win the match. When the judges decided I had won, I was happy to hear it.”
After Bakani and Kidia’s team kumite victory, both were left with three gold medals apiece after they also combined for gold in the women’s team kata event on Monday.
“Winning a gold in general is just a big thing,” Bakani said. “To win three golds is just something I never actually thought I would do in this competition, because I’ve had top competition from New Caledonia.”
Bakani and Kidia’s team kumite victory was all the more impressive since they were competing as a team of two in a three-a-side competition, meaning that each of their opponents already had a one-point advantage before the match even began.
“They were under extreme pressure,” Hails said. “Those two girls, Adi and Naomi, they’re queens, they’re beautiful. They are so talented.”
The pair’s victory in the final against Papua New Guinea’s Jacklyn Barney, Catherine Wilson, Doris Karomo and Lera Kose was many years in the making.
“We started training since 2006, so we’ve been together ever since,” Bakani said. “We always push each other to our limits and we’ve always supported each other.”
“So it’s really great to actually win a team event with her, especially the team kumite event, we’ve always been trying for that one.”
All of the teams will now turn their attention to next year’s Oceania Karate Championships in New Caledonia, with the home side in particular hoping to make a strong showing.
“We have an important target very soon as the Oceania Championships will be held in Noumea next year,” Mathieu Annonier (NCL) said.
“Australia and New Zealand will be there too, so preparing to this will be our main objective after the Pacific Games.”
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