A total of 85 male and 57 female athletes have registered for the third Melanesian Championships in Athletics which gets underway on this afternoon at the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium in Lae. Thirty five overseas athletes will participate in the Championships with 12 each from Fiji and Solomon islands, seven from Vanuatu and four australians.
Morobe Governor,Hon Luther Wenge MP has pledged his Administration's full support for the Championships and will be the guest speaker at the Opening Ceremony on saturday morning.
PNG Athletic Union President Tony Green also thanked National Flag Carrier Air Niugini for their support for the Championships. He also thanked Lae Biscuit Company, Designer Printing Limited, Coca Cola and Nestle PNG for their support.
Green said that Lae was ready for the Championships, with a hard working team led by Philip Rehder having taken care of all the logistical preparations. The Championships received a boost last week with the announcement that three time Olympian and undisputed king of South Pacific middle distance running Isireli Naikelekelevesi had been added to the Fiji team.
"Isireli has won the 800m and 1500m double at every South Pacific Games and Mini Games since Tahiti in 1995", said Green "which is a pretty impressive record. Whilst he is not in top form at the moment his presence will lift the performance of other athletes, which is good news for us".
One of Australia's top indigenous athletes, Peter Tuccandidgee from Cairns will contest the mens sprints and based in his form at the Oceania Championships last December will be hard to beat in the 400m.
Meanwhile the mens 100m looks set to be the most keenly contested event of all,with a starting line up in excess of 24 athletes,which will mean three rounds.Green said there are many quality athletes in the field and they are all evenly matched. Otis Gowa of Cairns and SP Games Champion Jon Lum Kon can expect a stiff challenge from at least five local athletes who have recently clocked 10.8 seconds or better.They are Anton Lui, Wally Kirika, Fabian Nuilai, Edward Buidal and Henry Ben.
The women's track events are likely to see close competition between PNG and Fiji. Green said that the PNG squad is better prepared and much more experienced than the team we fielded at the last Championships two years ago when Fiji girls had everything their own way.
The Solomon Islands are also sending a strong team to Lae, led by their experienced long distance specialist Chris Votu, who set a 10000m national record at the last Championships in 2003. Green said that the Solomons are a force to be reckoned with in the mens sprints and will have a strong relay team.
Not much is known about the small Vanuatu team of seven athletes,who will contest mainly the sprint events.
Look out for the results over the next few days.