Written by Bob Snow, Athletics PNG and Oceania Athletics Life Member

The year has been quite unlike any experienced in my lifetime. The Corona pandemic has played havoc with our lives, and made it extremely difficult for sporting competitions to follow their normal seasons.

As such it is to their credit that Athletics PNG has managed to put together a series of significant weekly and regional competitions, culminating in the national championships this weekend.

Many of the stars from 2019 and earlier have not had the opportunities to compete against the best for quite some time, and we eagerly await their performances. They have been training – and waiting. Now is their opportunity.

The most high profile athlete competing this weekend will be Toea Wisil. Her plans to go to the USA for major competitions, in her attempt to gain selection for the Tokyo Olympic Games next year, did not eventuate. She has an awesome reputation to live up, and we hope that her PNG training will have enabled her to show that she still has the ability to rule the Pacific. Her training regime has been a bit secretive, and we hope for something special.

Expect to have a whole new lot of athletes to shine. Some of the centres have produced a very large number of talented young athletes, who are ready to challenge the established stars. I wish I could be at the stadium to see it all unfold. Well, maybe I can!

Athletics PNG has arranged to have some of the competition live-streamed, which means from the safety of my home in Sydney I can watch the events unfold on my laptop. Great initiative, and one that should be applauded by all sports’ fans.

Making the most of the opportunity to participate in a nationals in their home town, Port Moresby International School has entered a large team of 44 athletes in the variety of age divisions.

Also taking the opportunity to attempt to make a comeback in front of their home crowd will be Paul Pokana and Priscilla John. It is heartening to see so many former athletes still involved in the sport as officials, coaches and competitors. Former representative athletes Morris Manai, Philip Kamane, Sapolai Yao, Monica Henao, Jacinta Langa, Eunice Steven, Anton Lui and Winai Waro will be amongst the group of key technical officials running the Championships whereas many others including Wala Gime, Nelson Stone , Wilson Malana, Kevin Kapmatana, Baobo Neuendorf , Helen Philemon, Allan Akia and Subul Babo will be coaching athletes at the Championships.

Many of our recent stars have not had the best opportunity to shine in 2020, but when they all come together on the all-weather track at Sir John Guise Stadium, I am sure their talent will shine through. We are lucky to have the services of George Moramoro and his team to provide fully automatic timing. That, with the aid of a wind gauge will ensure that the results for the three days of competition will have 100% credibility.

In the Men’s sprints we tend to focus quite a lot on the 100m, but we have won this only once in the full Pacific Games – Ezekiel Wartovo in 1991 in front of his home crowd. In 2020 we have two athletes who might be starting their “rise to fame” following their sensational near dead-heat in the WNB Championships in Kimbe last month. East Sepik’s Emmanuel Anis defeated Leroy Kamau (NCD) by 4/1000th of second when both athletes clocked 10.70 seconds. Others to watch will be Jonathan Dende, Paias Wisil, Michael Penny, Jobby Kinzu, Terence Talio, Alphonse Igish, Lance Okie, Graham Bai, Ezekiel Nawas and Timothy Tuna. The heats will be very competitive. Might need three rounds to find the finalists. Good stamina, as well as good speed, will be needed to do well in the final.

Jonathan Dende is one of two Bougainville sprinters training at NSI. His form is good. He is coached by Samu Sasama.   Emmanuel Anis will be the spearhead of a large team of 21 athletes from East Sepik.

In the Women’s 100m it is likely to be an easy win for Toea, but what we are really interested in will be her time. She is trying to climb up the World Athletics’ Ranking Lists in an effort to book her flight to Tokyo, but her quest will depend on how fast she can run. Her best last year was 11.50 seconds in the heats of the 100m in Apia. Her national record from 2017 is 11.29 seconds. Toea will be the focus of a lot of attention during the championships. Some of the newcomers likely to be in the final along with Adrine Monagi are Danlyne Siliwen, Vivian Tutuai, Petty Kuku and Lenia Gilis who all ran well in Kimbe during the WNB Championships. Monica Korowi won the bronze medal in both the U18 100m and 200m at the Oceania Championships in Townsville last year is likely to be in the mix for a finals’ berth.

The 200m at the WNB Championships saw a stunning time of 21.15 by Leroy Kamau, being the fastest ever by a PNG athlete on home soil. Leroy starred in the Oceania Championships in Fiji in 2017 where he won the U20 200m in the time of 21.90, and an even faster heat time of 21.65 seconds. After a break to concentrate on his studies he has come back with a vengeance. Expect strong competition from Daniel Baul, Jonathan Dende, Graham Bai, Emmanuel Anis, David Guka, Timothy Tuna, Chabby Solomon and Michael Penny.

The West New Britain Team of 40+ athletes has many young competitors who are looking for another opportunity to race against the best in their age division. Some of the young athletes will, however, compete in the Open Division, in an effort to test their ability and skills against the best in country. Lenia Gilis (400m), Dominica Kapapa (1500m & 3000m) and Graham Bai (100m & 200m) are hoping to consolidate their positions in the eyes of the national selectors. Many teams will follow the same strategy to give their young athletes the chance to shine in the stronger open competition.

Looking at the few results that have been made available this year, I am once again excited by the prospect of having a whole group of athletes in the Men’s 400m who will add strength and depth to the PNG squad ahead of the next Pacific Games. The 400m is historically our strongest event, and we have won the 4 x 400m relay for the past three Pacific Games, and the individual 400m nine times, with an additional  four times in the Mini Games. A potential clean sweep in Apia last year was prevented by Australia entering an athlete who had been an Olympic finalist. We finished in 2nd, 3rd and 4th – all with fast times. 

 So far this year we have had great times from Benjamin Aliel (48.49), Daniel Baul (48.64) and Jonathan Dende (48.96). they were 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the WNB Championships in Kimbe in early November. Bringing the best together guarantees fast times from the whole field. Morobe’s Emmanuel Wanga should also be watched closely. Emmanuel ran 47.85 seconds in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2019 and was a member of the gold medal winning 4 x 400m Team in Apia. Emmanuel also has fast 100m and 200m times to his credit. He has been entered in the 200m and 400m events.An in form Leroy Kamau will also fancy his chances in this event, especially after running 48.2 seconds last weekend in Port Moresby and this could come down to a showdown between Kamau and his training partner Daniel Baul, PNG’s fastest last year with a time of 47.31 seconds

There are also many quality athletes who are poised to break the 50 second barrier, and what a good opportunity for them to do so in these nationals. Leading the list is Jonah Theo (NCD) with 50.1 seconds. Adolf Kauba (ENB) is not far behind.We are waiting to see if a recent hamstring injury to Benjamin Aliel has recovered sufficiently for him to compete. 

There is a wealth of talent in the Men’s sprints and we hope that they are all injury-free and ready to display their best form.

The Women’s 400m has a large range of relative newcomers to the sport. Standout so far is 15-year-old Lenia Gilis from WNB who won the event in the WNB Regional event with the time of 59.34, narrowly from Edna Boafob (59.70).    

Patricia Kuku (59.64) won the U18 event. Add to their performances the contribution of the NR holder, Toea Wisil, and Leonie Beu (on a US scholarship) and it is a solid foundation for the Women’s 4 x 400m in future Games. West New Britain has three other athletes who are just about to break the 60 second barrier –  Melisah Suambu (60.1), Roslyn Madi (60.2), and Hika Kasau (60.2).

Edna Boafob (MOR) should perform very well in the 200m, 400m and the 400m Hurdles. She has represented the country with distinction at the World Relays in Yokohama, and won the bronze medal in the Heptathlon in the 2019 Apia Pacific Games. Other team members from Yokohama, who are competing in this championships are Daniel Baul, Emmanuel Wanga and Adrine Monagi.

The Men’s 800m will be another event hotly contested. Sialis Passingan (NIP) and Adolf Kauba (ENB) are the only athletes to break 2 minutes this year and their times are within 1/10th of a second. Good race predicted. Some of the top 400m runners might try their luck as well, as they have proved good at the 800m distance in the past.

The standout stars of the Middle and Long Distance men this year are those who are being trained in ENBP under the guidance of Bernard Manau at his base in rural ENB. His group includes Siune Kagl (2nd in the 10000m and 4th in the 5000m in the PG 2019), James Kuadua (bronze in both the Apia 5000m and 10000m), Israel Takap (fastest in PNG this year over the 1500m), Monica Kalua (the fastest this year over the 1500m) and Mary Tenge (a good middle and long distance runner who recorded fast times in Townsville and Apia in 2019). In the recent WNB Championships, Monica Kalua narrowly defeated Dominica Kakapa (WNB) in the 3000m event. The dual between Kagl and Takap in the 1500m promises to be one of the highlights of the championships,and the inclusion of George Yamak and Simbu’s Abel Siune adds more quality to this event

Western Province has entered George Yamak in the 800m and 1500m. Not sure what his current form is, but he has the ability to finish races with a ferocious sprint. Those who saw him in the 1500m in Apia will understand what I mean. He was tripped and fell during the race and lost a huge amount of time and distance before he could resume racing. He never gave up and in the final 300m he passed many of the competitors who were ahead of him and finished a creditable fifth. Even with the fall, he managed to run 4:09.98.  Accompanying George on his trip from Daru will be Serah Neuendorf, the 17 year old daughter of former champion athletes Baobo Duaba-Neuendorf and Rosemary Nami. She is entered in the U18 100m, 200m & 400m.

Siune Kagl is in scintillating form and recently run 3000m in under 9 minutes on grass on two occassions. As such he is predicted to lead the fields home in the 5000m and 10000m. If he enters the 1500m it will be interesting to see his clash with fellow squad member, Israel Takap. In a recent 1500m event in Kimbe Israel beat Siune in the 1500m by an extremely small margin – 23/100th of a second. Siune is better suited to the longer distances.

Abel Siune will also be out to show that he is still a force to be reckoned with. he first came on the scene in the 2012 PNG Games in ENB as a young primary school student. He has stayed the course and is running good times in 2020. Abel defeated the favourite Simbai Kaspar  in the 1500m the last time the National Championships were held in Port Moresby (2018)

National rep, Lyanne Tibu will be a member of the NSI Team and will compete in the 800m and 1500m. Her 2019 times in these events were 2:18.26 (800m) and 4:52.04 (1500m). She won the bronze medal in the 1500m in the Apia Pacific Games. Also part of the NSI Team is Ongan Awa who returns to the national stage after a few years’ break from the sport. In 2015 Ongan won the silver medal in the 10000m behind Sharon Firisua in a time of 39:07.97 and a bronze in the 5000m (18:24.48).    Once again Bala Nicholas is part of the Simbu Team. Although still quite young, she has been a consistent competitor for many years – at least back to 2012. Another of the very young athletes from the 2015 Games Mary Kua who was famously disqualified for discarding her competition number will also be taking part in the Championships,but like Ongan Awa, Mary has had a limited preparation.

Officials expect the clash between Simbu’s top distance runner, Jemima Mondo, and ENB’s Monica Kalua over the 3000m and 5000m distances to be the highlight of the competition.

Off a limited training base, Poro Gahekave (gold medals in the 1500m, 3000m Steeplechase and the 5000m in Apia) is likely to compete in just the 800m.

Also making an appearance after being absent for many years is Kupsy Bisamo (MOR), one of our former top distance runners. At the age of 36 he will be trying to show us all that his best is not behind him. He represented PNG on many occasions from 2010 onwards in Oceania events and the Arafura Games. Was totally dominant in the 2012 PNG Games in ENB.

Simbu will provide a strong group of contenders in the Men’s Distance Events, as they have managed to do for the past decade. Their earlier season competitions have been on grass tracks at altitude, and we have not seen them perform at their best. In the past our best distance runners have been from the Islands and the Coastal Region, so it might be interesting to see how the competition works out in 2020.

Most of the Simbu Teams this year will be made-up from young school athletes. many of their top senior runners are training elsewhere in 2020, with the expected stars as part of the ENB  Team. Expect good performances in the distance events from Wilford Baia in the 1500m, 5000m and the 3000m Steeplechase.

The World Cross Country Championships were to be held in Bathurst, NSW, Australia, in March 2021, but because of the pandemic they have been postponed. It is expected that they will be held in 2022. PNG has committed to sending teams to this event, and should provide a huge incentive for distance runners to plan to be in top form for this championship. We have entered the World Cross Country Championships before – 1996 & 1998.

It hardly seems possible, but it looks as though the reign of the “Hurdles King” Mowen Boino has come to an end. He first represented PNG in 1999 at the South Pacific Games in Guam.  He leaves behind a great legacy, and a serious challenge to those who follow him in the 400m Hurdles – the national record of 50.37 seconds, recorded in 2006. Ephraim Lerkin (currently at college in Kansas, USA) and Daniel Baul look to be very worthy rivals for the vacated crown. Both have a good range of events, and we look forward to seeing Daniel in action on his home track in Port Moresby.  Who else will rise to the challenge?

Our 400m Hurdlers have also used 800m preparation to build up stamina for the gruelling one-lap hurdles race. This has given them a new event in which to stake their claim for future PNG Teams.

Since deciding to leave the Heptathlon, Adrine Monagi has been in a class of her own in the 100m Hurdles. She was our representative to the World Athletic Championships in Doha, Qatar, last year and the World Relay Championships in Yokohama, Japan. Adrine will be heading a 17-strong Popondetta Team.

With our top jumpers currently overseas – Rellie Kaputin in Australia, and Peniel Richard and Annie Topal in the USA  –  the competition for ‘best in country” is heating up.

In the Men’s Long Jump at a recent meet in Kimbe, Eldan Toti (POM 6.94m) defeated Steven Ray (MOR 6.80m), to set up a good clash in the nationals. Eldan jumped 7.15m in 2019, and has proved a versatile competitor with good times in the sprints, and High Jump. Eldan represented PNG at the 2019 Apia Pacific Games in the High Jump and Long Jump.. Morobe has another lesser known athlete in the LJ & TJ – Rocka Manau. In 2019 he jumped 6.63m in the LJ and 13.76m in the TJ.

Like many former national reps, Roland Hure is coming off a low training base, so we will see what he can achieve in the High Jump. He cleared 1.93m in the Apia Games last year.

Kenneth Harrison and Ryan Elijah (ENB) are ones to watch in the High, Long and Triple Jumps. They have impressed many coaches and officials. Kenneth won the U17 Long Jump last year with a leap of 6.27m, relegating Ryan Elijah to 2nd position. Their duel continues.

Australian coach, Phil Newton, who coaches Rellie Kaputin, has high hopes for Ryan, and it is hoped that he will have the opportunity soon for a period of good coaching and regular competition.

The best women in the Long Jump event are Danlyne Siliwen (WNB) who has a distance of 4.78m, marginally ahead of Vivian Tutuai (ENB) with 4.75m. They look to be the pick of the field. Many young athletes are in the 4.50m range, and it is hoped that some of them will rise to the occasion this weekend.

We generally start to get excited about a potential Women’s Long Jump athlete when they reach 5.00m, and then hope that they can continue to improve over the years. Rellie Kaputin’s NR of 6.50m came after a decade of hard work, good coaching and excellent competition opportunities. She was once jumping much less than 5.00m, but she persevered. In 2012 Rellie was primarily a high jumper and triple jumper. Her long jump best then was 4.86m.  Keep at it and see what results can be possible.

PNG has only occasionally done well in the throws. At present our top thrower is Sharon Toako. Sharon blossomed as a thrower while at college in New Mexico, USA. In 2019 she won the gold medal in the Javelin with a throw of 47.13m. In mid-November this year she broke Iammo Launa’s 27-year-old national record in the Discus with a throw of 38.98m. Back home, and under the guidance of Paul Bannister, she continues to improve. It is good to have an athlete capable of competing well with the New Caledonians who have dominated the throwing events for over 50 years. Sharon is slowly improving her distance in the Shot Put and threw the 4kg implement 11.15m in late November.

Also look out for the performances by Jacklyn Travertz in the Hammer Throw. She has progressed significantly since her debut in the 2015 Pacific Games. Jacklyn won the bronze in the Hammer in Apia in 2019 with a throw of 47.99m. Pacific Games rep, Lakona Gerega (bronze in the Javelin in Apia), had a personal best of  64.89m in Townsville in 2019 and big things is expected of him in the years ahead.

As part of the New Ireland Team, Robson Yinambe is listed to enter the 100m and 110m Hurdles.  Robson won the Decathlon in the 2015 Moresby Games, and will be trying to make a comeback to challenge the new PNG Decathlon stars Karo Iga (silver in Apia) and Cletus Mosi (4th in Apia).

Cletus has entered the High Jump, Long Jump, 110m Hurdles and the Javelin. All four events are part of the 10-event Decathlon. Karo Iga has entered just the High Jump this time.

The 2020 Nationals will give Athletics PNG a glimpse of the huge potential as we move into 2021 and (hopefully) a return to a normal sporting calendar. We look forward to eventually having the Oceania Championships and the Melanesian Championships when the dates have been decided. All will lead, however to 2022 when in the space of only 52 days we will send athletes to the Saipan Mini Games, the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, USA, and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK.

The next three days will give the national selectors the opportunity to see how the athletes are going, and start to plan for future PNG Teams.

To all provincial associations and athletes – train well, organise lots of relevant competition and send your results on a regular basis to Athletics PNG. Remember the old saying  –  “results are proof of life”.