OCEANIA ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIPS – 2000 Adelaide (August 24-26)
Coming just a month before the start of the Sydney Olympic Games, it was a meet fraught with tension, drama and importance. The Senior and the Youth Championships were held in conjunction with each other. In this outing of the OAA Championships the Junior Division was replaced with the Youth (U18) Division. The competition was held at the Santos Stadium.
With selections for the Australian Olympic Team having been almost finalised, a couple of Australian athletes participated in highly publicised time trials. In addition, athletes from African countries were also participating by invitation in an effort to make their national teams for Sydney. Athletes from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Mali, Congo, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Togo, Swaziland and Kenya.
Many of the Africans competed by invitation in events with Oceania athletes, and many competed in special Africa-only exhibition races. None of the invited athletes could take the Oceania Championship medals, which were reserved for the genuine Oceania athletes from Australia, New Zealand and the Islands. Some Australians, not official members of the Australian Team, ran in events as guests.
It was unlike any Oceania Athletics Championships seen before – or since.
The medal tally was also unlike the normal situation. While New Zealand won 11 gold medals, Australia won only 2, with PNG 7, Fiji 5 and Tonga 5. The Island nations won a total of 24 gold, with guest participants, New Caledonia winning 2 gold.
With Olympic selection in the mind of many Pacific Island athletes, there were some very close calls to be made by selectors. In the 1996 Olympic Games the size of the Island teams could be quite large. The PNG and Fiji teams had many competitors in Atlanta. From 2000 onwards, unless individual athletes qualified by right, they were restricted to one male athlete and one female athlete. In Sydney 2000 only four Pacific Island nations had participants in the Olympics’ competition – and they were all in Adelaide for the Oceania Championships – Mary-Estelle Kapalu and Abraham Kepsin (VAN), Mowen Boino & Ann Mooney (PNG), Primo Higa and Jenny Keni (SOL) and Isireli Naikelekelevesi (FIJ). In the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta there were 23 Island athletes competing.
In the Men’s sprints in Adelaide, Peter Pulu (PNG) won the 100m and 200m double yet again. Litiana Miller (FIJ) won the Women’s 100m and Nicola Morris (NZL) won the 200m.
Other successful male athletes included Jeffrey Bai (PNG – 400m), Isireli Naikelekelevesi (FIJ – 800m), Brent Butler (GUM – 5000m & 10000m), Primo Higa (SOL – 3000m Steeplechase), Joseph Rodan Jnr (FIJ – 110m Hurdles), Ivan Wakit (PNG – 400m Hurdles), Fagamanu Sofai (SAM – Triple Jump), Hohepa Poihipi (NZL = Shot & Discus), Brentt Jones (NFI – Hammer Throw), James Goulding (FIJ – Javelin), PNG with wins in both relays.
In the lead-up to the Oceania Championships and the Olympic Games, PNG’s two dominant 400m Hurdlers – Ivan Wakit and Mowen Boino – had traded wins in their effort to gain Olympic selection. Ivan won in Adelaide but early the next month it was decided to have another race, and the winner would get the nod for the PNG Olympic Team. Mowen won, bringing an end to Ivan’s reign as the Islands’ #1 over the 400mH, and beginning Mowen’s 17-year reign as the best in the Pacific in that event.
Successful athletes in the Women’s events included – Mary-Estelle Kapalu (VAN – 400m & 400mH), Salome Tabuatalei (FIJ – 1500m), Vasa Tulahe (TON – 5000m), Tatum Rickard (NZL – High Jump & Triple Jump), Siulolo Liku (TON – Long Jump), Ana Po’uhila (TGA – Shot & Javelin), Melehifo Uhi (TGA – Discus), Sharyn Tennant (NZL – Hammer Throw) with New Zealand winning both relays.
At the conclusion of the Oceania Championships, those Island athletes selected by their home federations for the Olympics, stayed in Adelaide for their final preparation.
In the Youth (U18) Championships several names appeared who were later to make a more significant contribution in the senior ranks. Among those of note were – Sarah Cowley (NZL), Melesia Mafile’o (TGA), Tereapii Tapoki (COK), Mae Koime (PNG), Jarrod Bannister (AUS), Henry Foufaka (SOL), Setefano Mika – later known as Aunese Curreen (SAM), Eroni Tuivanuavou (FIJ) and Teina Teiti (COK).
The Senior Division was dominated by the Pacific Island nations for the first time. The 2000 Oceania Athletics Championships’ circumstances were unique.