The Oceania Athletics Championships is an athletics event organized by the Oceania Athletics Association (OAA) for the World Athletics (WA) member associations of the Oceania region. The first Championships was held in 1990 in Suva, attracting 230 athletes from 12 Countries. It was initially conceived as a quadrennial event; however, after the second edition in 1994, the championships changed to a biennial event.
The man who pioneered the compilation of Pacific Islands’ Athletics statistics, the late Tony Isaacs, wrote in his Pacific Statistics #4. “For many years, Oceania has remained the only continent without an Area Championships, but at long last, an inaugural event was held on the new 8-lane track at the National Stadium in Suva, Fiji, in July 1990”.
The National Stadium was the scene of a spectacular opening ceremony. The highlight was a traditional Fijian meke performed by 300 students from Ratu Kadavulevu School who paraded over the embankment across the embankment field to the official dais. It is the most awe-inspiring opening ceremony I have ever seen in the Pacific Islands. It was a fitting start for this ground-breaking Championships.
The teams were from nine Pacific Islands in Oceania Athletics and Australia and New Zealand. In this inaugural event, the team from Australia was selected from those living north of the Tropic of Capricorn and the New Zealand team comprised of up-and-coming athletes who had not represented their country before. The New Caledonian athletes, members of the European A.A., competed by invitation.
The Micronesian Games were held on Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands from 8-12 July, preventing the Micronesian nations from having a more significant participation in Suva.
The Men’s sprints were won by Islanders, with Joseph Onika (SOL) taking the 100m, Subul Babo (PNG) winning the 200m and local hero Alex Soqosoqo first across the line in the 400m. Tonga and Fiji dead-heated in the 4 x 100m Relay and Fiji won the 4 x 400m Relay.
The Women’s sprints saw New Caledonia’s Ghislaine Saint-Prix (competing by invitation) winning the 100m ahead of Australia’s Bindee Goonchew. Bindee won the 200m, with New Zealand’s Kirsten Downie winning the 400m. New Zealand won the 4 x 100m and Australia the 4 x 400m.
New Zealand and Australia dominated the rest of the events. Athletes who won two events were – Derek Renz (NZL – 800m & 1500m), Duane Humphreys (NZL – 5000m & 3000m Steeplechase), Douglas Mace (NZL – Shot Putt & Hammer Throw) and Helen Hawley (NZL – 800m & 1500m).
Both Javelin events were won by Fiji. In the Men’s JT, James Goulding easily won near the beginning of his very successful career, and Mereoni Vibose won the Women’s JT near the end of her equally successful career.
Looking at the Pacific Island athletes who did attend, it was possible to see those who would successfully represent their nations at the 1991 South Pacific Games and beyond – many going on to the Commonwealth Games, World Championships and the Olympic Games. Names such as Vaciseva Tavaga (FIJ), Lillyanne Beining (PNG), Jen Alred (GUM), Vasa Tulahe (TON), Iammo Launa (PNG), Salome Tabuatalei (FIJ), Lily Tua (PNG), Tahiri Homerang (PNG), Rachel Rogers (FIJ), Elizabeth Kamilus (PNG), Nadia Prasad (NCL), Jone Delai (FIJ), Toluta’u Koula (TON), Peauope Suli (TON), Ezekiel Wartovo (PNG), Fletcher Wambo (VAN), Jerry Jeremiah (VAN), Fosa Torea (PNG), Lui Muavesi (FIJ), Ancel Nalau (VAN), Aaron Dupnai (PNG), Davendra Singh (FIJ), Albert Chambonnier (NCL), Homelo Vi (TON), Sekona Vi (TON), Autiko Daunakamakama Jnr (FIJ), Gabrieli Qoro (FIJ), Steeve Druminy (NCL) and Frederic Cassier (NCL) all come to mind as athletes who were grateful for the opportunity to have such a successful competition “in their backyard”.
For the Pacific Islanders, it was an incredible workout for their future Island competitions. For those from Australia and New Zealand, it was an excellent opportunity to get a taste of international Athletics and forge ahead in their careers post-champions.
From this highly successful first foray into Continental Championships, the event would gradually evolve over the years as different eligibility rules were applied for Australia and New Zealand, new events were added to the programme and the overall format of the meet would change from time to time.
Prior to the championships starting Bill Bailey conducted an officiating course for a large group of Island attendees. Many helped to officiate during the meet and continue to hone their skills in the years ahead. OAA, through the Regional Development Centre (now called the Area Development Centre), continued to help the region to this day with many courses for officials, coaches and athletes. In 1990 the RDC – Adelaide was headed by Fletcher McEwen.
At the closing ceremony, all looked forward to the next Oceania Athletics Championships to be held in Auckland in 1994.