by Jeremy Mogi, EMTV, Port Moresby
Papua New Guinea’s performances at the 2019 Pacific Games highlighted to the nation, the importance of its women-folk, who despite myriad challenges, brought back a staggering 29 Gold medals in total, over double that of the men.
Flora Loga’s first Gold
Samoa 2019 presented for Papua New Guinea the chance to really show its dominance as a power in sport in the Pacific. With a failing economy, rising debt levels, crime in some areas shocking, this was the opportunity to tell the rest of our island neighbours that PNG had much more to offer.
And its contingent of athletes would be the ambassadors of a nation that for so long had had a darker pall cast over it.
And sport – was where PNGs true heroes had always united the nation.
In 2015, riding that wave of home support, Papua New Guinea dominated, in the track, the field, the pool, pitch, court, ring, raking in medal after medal.
But gone were Ryan, there was no Nelson, and none of our hunters were in the 9s.
Tennis star Abigail Tere-Apisah bore the nation’s standard on opening night. A moment she spoke of with pride as she looked to retain gold from 2015.
“I’m really excited to lead team PNG this evening and we’re also less than a day away from competing and we hope to give our best and we hope that you guys are supporting from home and wherever in the world you are”
Dominating in the courts and eventually facing off against her niece in a two set victory Tere-Apisah’s medal count boosted PNG even further on the tally.
Weightlifting’s Dika remains a shining light, coming back out of retirement she bore her weight of expectancy in an almost serene fashion, Toua lifted an amazing 175kg ,winning gold in the snatch AND clean and jerk.
“I’m feeling great at the moment… I’ve won the three medals and I’m so excited for Papua New Guinea because we’ve worked so hard for it.”
Powerlifting flew under the radar – Linda Pulsan, Oceania Champion, Commonwealth Champion, World Champion, inspired her own crop to a five gold haul.
“im happy because in the first week (of competition) we were on sixth place, and our Gold medals brought PNG up.” She said at the official Team PNG welcome.
Women’s football had no local national competition and hadn’t had one in over a two year period. That a handful of women could be selected with no domestic league, no international fixtures in the lead, yet go undefeated with a combined 23 goals conceding 5.
Prior to their departure co-captain Lucy Maino had been excited at the prospect of adding more to PNGs growing souvenir collection.
“from four years from now, not just myself but the girls as well have grown in different ways…. We all had one common goal and that kept us united, kept us focussed, it was honestly really refreshing and just to see women’s soccer continue to grow and develop in different levels”
Fast forward a month, and she was joined by the football queen’s longest serving player and now multiple pacific games gold medallist, Deslyn Siniu.
“I’m just super proud of the girls, playing in our fifth pacific games.. It’s just awesome. You get to see or know there’s a lot of talent here in PNG in terms of women’s football there’s a lot of potential and I think one of the biggest challenges is to identify those potentials and develop those skills because I know that PNG women’s, we can go for the sixth gold medal in the Solomon’s in the next four years”
While that result may however have been underpinned by their ranking as favorites prior to the games, it was an additional inspiration when the day before, the Women’s Touch team equalled its men’s result, by winning gold on a muddy Samoan field.
New Caledonia after just Day One were already leading the medal count. No surprises there. Out of 15 previous games, they’d only lost it three times and with the exception of 2015, were still overwhelming favourites.
They ruled the pool, and the ocean, racing away to an unassailable lead before half of PNGs contingent arrived in Apia.
But while New Caledonia had their swimmers, PNG had their track stars.
it was the track where PNG women shone, collecting 28 medals, 11 of those a shiny yellow.
Sharon Toako, Annie Topal , Rellie Kaputin, Donna Koniel, Leonie Beu, Isila Apkup, Poro Gahekave leading the 1, 2, 3 and Toea Wisil in the 100, 200 and 400m races.
Toea’s feat an unimaginable 3 by 3, dating back 2007 years.
A record that, despite the advances of the rest of the pacific, will take a long time to break. And all this despite her own personal battles. EMTV Sport Presenter Dinnierose Raiko who had been covering Wisil’s performance’s had this to say about the sprint queen.
“her struggles came to light in the 2017 mini-pacific games when she went to Vanuatu and in the sprints, in the 200 actually that was where Cook Islands beat her to Gold, and she broke down… she didn’t go up to the podium (for the) medal presentation and she was shunned for it, a lot of people considered it as breaking protocol… but I think her mental welfare and her welfare in general wasn’t considered during that time”
“These elite athletes push themselves to the limit and at some point they need mental support”
Our 7s women qualified – our men didn’t, and while it was a bronze medal- their performance stated, if you can it, we can too.
Basketball was a disappointment however.
Allegations of nepotism in the selection process were brought to light after dismal performances throughout the first week of competition in Samoa.
Cricket were hoping to pull one back over hosts Samoa, but lacking numbers and back to back matches under wet conditions, didn’t help their cause, eventually settling for silver.
The silver medals were another aspect of comparative results with the men’s. Bearing in mind that roughly half 190- 182 of PNGs travelling contingent were women, 26 silver medals were picked up, to the men’s 31.
All the women spoke to, shared the same sentiments, that more support is needed for women. That they should be allowed to have the same opportunities as the men do, both in terms of technical support, sponsorships and also from the wider community.
The statistics speak for themselves. And so do their performances.
“Investment should come where there are returns” Raiko finishes off by saying.