Known primarily after its major sponsor, the CocaCola Games is the biggest sporting event in Fiji every year, and the largest Athletics meet in the entire South Pacific Islands’ Region.
The crowd on the hill during Day Three of action. On the final day the ground was close to capacity.
In 2018, despite the problems created by Tropical Cyclones Josie and Keni, 151 Secondary Schools, from all 17 zones, and a total of 2463 athletes participated. Many schools are travelling from areas that took the full brunt of the cyclones and have found their final preparation has been seriously impaired. The same problem was seen in 2016 with the much more destructive TC Winston. It is all part of the Pacific scene!
The build-up in the Fiji media even relegates Rugby Union to the less important pages of the daily newspapers.
Day One started with an official opening ceremony at 9.00am, and the action commenced at midday with a very heavy programme.
The Fiji members of the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast would have found it hard to adjust to this competition after participating on one of the biggest stages of their career. They acquitted themselves well, but the star of the day was Heleina Young who recorded a time of 12.07 seconds (+0.3) to be the strongest of favourites for the Intermediate Girls 100m Final the next day. Would she challenge the record of 12.01 seconds held by Younis Bese?
Sprinters Makereta Naulu (100m) and Elenani Tinai (400m) won their heats with ease, and look good for the finals. Vanuatu Mini Games 1500m champ, Petero Veitaqomaki ran an easy three laps and then took off for the long sprint home to easily win the Inter Boys’ 1500m in the very slow time of 4:22.46 – just as he did in Port Vila. (The record is 4:11.68 – from 2014).
Petero got a massive personal best in the 800m in the Commonwealth Games where he was in a heat with the World Junior Record Holder and London Olympic silver medal winner – Nigel Amos from Botswana – and Pacific Mini Games gold medallist, Alex Beddoes of the Cook Islands. In that race he had to go fast from the beginning and was rewarded with a significant improvement on his personal best. In the Coke Games, he will not be under the same degree of pressure and we wonder what time he will record here in the 2018 edition of this championships. All agree that his best event will be the 800m, but it is good for him to persevere with the 1500m, and also move down to the 400m to maintain speed.
National Representative, Asinate Kasowaqa, easily won the Senior Girls Long Jump with a leap of 5.26m. Mereseini Waqatoki cleared 5.15m to win the Junior Girls’ Long Jump. In the Inter Division Ulamila Matevakatini narrowly won with 5.16m and a total of four athletes clearing 5.00m.
The Boys Long Jump also produced some promising athletes – Josateki Tabuaduadua (6.92m) and Penijamini Nasarowale (6.83m) in the Senior Boys Division, and Aporosa Taqiri (6.68m) in the Inter Boys Division.
The high jumpers also made an impact with Tevita Senico winning the Senior Boys event (1.98m) narrowly from Joe Vokiti (1.95m). Joe won the 2017 event with the same height – 1.95m, and Tevita won the Inter Boys Division in 2017 with 1.97m. Time for them to move to higher than 2.00m – regularly. Tevita jumped 2.00m in Lautoka a year ago.
National Record holder (1.71m) and gold medallist from the Mini Games (1.70m), Shawntell Lockington disappointed her many fans with a jump of 1.50 to win the silver in the Inter Girls High Jump.
Fiji continued with good Triple Jump from the males with Kalveti Mokosiro clearing 14.41m narrowly ahead of multi-talented Joe Vokiti with 14.37m. (Kalaveti won the Inter Boys Division last year with 14.89m).
On Day Two, there were rumours that heavy rain was on its way and yet another tropical depression was headed to Fiji. Luckily it did not happen. A few sprinkles of rain, but nothing like the feared downpour.
Because of the difficult build-up to the Coke Games with TC Josie and Keni causing nation-wide havoc, not all of the athletes managed to make it to the ANZ Stadium for the event. Some heats were light-on, but all of the main contenders were definitely there.
Friday’s competition had several standout performances on the track. The pick of the lot was Heleina Young’s emphatic victory in the Inter-Girls 100m. Her time of 11.87 seconds was truly impressive. She outshone the stars who had recently returned from the Gold Coast. She will not be overlooked for future national teams’ selection.
With Younis Bese’s record being broken by Heleina, it will be interesting to see the two athletes go head to head when Younis returns to Fiji for the 2019 Games. Younis, after a lacklustre career at her US junior college, has roared back into Pacific Games contention with some superb runs in Alabama earlier in April.
The finals of the girls 400m events indicated that Fiji is going to have a very formidable Women’s 4 x 400m Relay Team if the school stars stay in the sport. The good times, in the different divisions have been – 57.57 (Elenani Tinai), 57.77 (Ana Kaitoga), 57.86 (Akanisi Sokoiwasa) and 58.42 (Serenia Ragatu). Add to this strong quartet the speed of Heleina Young and Miriama Senokonoko and Athletics Fiji has a squad that could deliver the goods in Apia in 2019. Will they remain motivated and dedicated to the hard training needed?
Niusawa High School on the island of Taveuni, has unearthed the services of a very successful Javelin coach – Jone Temo. In the 2017 Coke Games this small school won three gold medals for the javelin events and have repeated that success again in 2018. I feel proud of my former school as I taught and coached there from 1972-1975 and brought the first outer island team to the Fiji Finals in 1975 – on the grass track at Buckhurst Park.
Elena Caucau broke the Senior Girls’ Javelin record with a distance of 43.49m, a distance that would have had her win the bronze medal in the Mini Games in December.
The field events tend to get ignored in the tsunami of publicity for the sprints, but they contribute significantly to the overall medal tally and give the non-sprinters a chance to shine on this big Fiji stage.
Day Three started with the 3000m events – only two unfortunately, with one for the Girls and one for the Boys. With such limited opportunities for distance runners, it is no wonder that Fiji has found it difficult to produce good female distance athletes since the retirement of Salome Tabuatalei. If the events are not in the Coke Games, then the coaches will not prepare the athletes for distance races. There is only one 1500m race for the girls too. No opportunity to progress to a good time through the grades – year after year.
The winner of the Girls 3000m was Camari Adilasaqa (11:10.93) and the Boys’ winner was Viliame Salusalu (9:37.50). Camari won the event in 2017 as well.
Petero Veitaqomaki, after his massive personal best at the Commonwealth Games, took off like a man possessed in the Inter Boys’ 800m Final. After an exceptionally fast first lap he began to feel the effects on the second lap, and was obviously struggling over the final 100m. He did win, however, with a time of 1:58.06 to claim the title and shave a small margin off the record. (His Comm Games time was 1:54.22). When he learns better pace judgement, look out for a series of fast runs. Will he have the opportunity to work with coaches and have enough competitive races for him to develop that much-needed pace judgement?
The highlight of the final day was the exceptional run of Heleina Young (again) when she easily beat Younis Bese’s Inter-Girls record of 24.72 with a flawless, stylish run in the time of 24.33 (+1.7). Many of the other 200m finals had wind readings over the limit, but Heleina was lucky and the record is hers.
Heleina on her way to a record-breaking time of 24.33 seconds in the final of the Intermediate Girls 200m.
Favourite for the Senior Boys’ 200m Final, Shane Tuvusa, was disqualified for a false start, but sadly had difficulty in accepting the decision. The fastest 200m time for the boys was the Intermediate champion, Nemani Medreilagi who ran a windy 21.99 (+3.1). Senior Girls’ winner, Makereta Naulu returned a time of 24.91 (+3.5).
There was somewhat of a circus involving Shane Tuvusa’s DQ and the soap opera went on until the end of the competition when Shane, after a total surprise decision by the Jury of Appeal, was allowed to run a solo 200m to see if he could claim the gold. Having just run a 4 x 400m anchor leg for his school shortly before, there was no way he could have run faster than the medal winners from earlier in the day. The IAAF does not allow such races to take place, but the wise men from the jury sanctioned it.
Intermittently during the day the skies opened and brief heavy showers interrupted the proceedings. There was always the worry about another tropical depression heading towards Fiji, and this was the beginning. We hoped not.
This is a fairly regular happening at the Coke Games, which are held towards the end of the rainy and hurricane season each and every year. It would be much more sensible to hold the event during the drier season, but there is an almost zero chance of that happening. One can only hope that the inter-house championships, zone meets and the Fiji Finals are not too badly affected by the heavy rain turning the grass tracks into padi fields. At least the country now has a second all-weather track and many of the schools within easy reach of these tracks can overcome the problems associated with heavy, muddy grass tracks.
And the heavens opened, mercifully for only a short time.
On Days 2 & 3 of the competition 285 relay teams took part in heats and finals for the 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m. An outstanding fact is that there was not even one disqualification during all those races. Amazing.
There is still quite a bit of opposition to the IAAF’s false-start rule, and this puts an unacceptable amount of pressure on the officials. It is essential that the rule is rigorously enforced at the Fiji Finals, so that Fiji athletes are well prepared to perform legally in regional and international competitions.
During the three days of competition there was an notable array of former champion athletes who were officiating, or coaching some of the teams. For those with a memory of yester-year the list was impressive – Alifereti Cawanibuka (hurdles 1970’s), Albert Miller (Decathlon gold SPG 1983, 1987, 1991), Solomone Bole (NR Holder 4 x 400m Relay 1998 Comm Games), Jovesa Naivalu (Pacific Record Holder 110mH and IAAF World Championship Under 20 bronze medallist), Salome Tabuatalei (holder of six NR’s), Gabby Qoro (gold medal LJ in SPG 1991), John Lumkon (double gold in the sprints 2003 SPG) and Banuve Tabakaucoro (four gold medals for the sprints in the Pacific Games 2011 & 2015) who is making a comeback to the sport.
Talking to many of the experienced Athletics officials I get the impression that now would be a good time to increase the number of events for the Coke Games. It is about time to contemplate adding hurdles to the programme. It will take many years to achieve widespread acceptance of this discipline, but with schools able to build their own hurdles from wood and bamboo, to the correct height specifications, there is no reason why even remote schools cannot coach and produce quality athletes. Most schools could use the Woodwork programme to produce a good set of hurdles.
In addition now is the time to take the middle and long distance events seriously. For girls the paucity of events longer than 800m is deeply disappointing. Athletics Fiji relies on the Coke Games to provide the national champions, and international representatives, of the future. The number of Fiji women winning Full Pacific Games medals in the middle and long distance is very small. Since 2000 only Merseini Naidau (bronze 1500m – 2011) and Akesa Drotini (gold 5000m – 2007) have done so.
The atmosphere at the track during the final session, with all of the relay gold medals being decided, is very special. The decibel level rises to almost move off the scale. This is where the partisan crowds are at their most entertaining and animated. In most cases the spectators do not care about the quality of the performances – it is all about the medals. The final medal tallies are announced with much drama, jubilation and disappointment.
Although I taught in three different schools in Fiji in a bygone era, my interest in the CocaCola Games is centred around the quality of the performers – especially in the divisions (Inter and Senior) from which the next Fiji Pacific Games Team (July 2018), and Oceania Athletics Team (June 2018) will emerge.
The individual trophy winners for the different divisions are –
Sub Junior Girls – Rosi Repeka (100m 12.70, and 200m 25.91)
Sub Junior Boys – Alipate Vuiwakaya (100m in 11.92 and 200m in 23.91(
Junior Girls – Amele Navabale (100m in 12.35 and 200m 25.25)
Junior Boys – Meli Junior (200m in 22.53 and 400m in 50.41)
Intermediate Girls – Heleina Young (100m in 11.87 and 200 in 24.33)
Intermediate Boys – Petero Veitaqomaki (800m in 1:58.06 and 1500m in 4:22.46)
Senior Girls – Makereta Naulu (100m in 12.24 and 24.91 in the 200m)
Senior Boys – Kameli Sauduadua (47.47 in the 400m and relay gold in the 4 x 400m)
Overall Best Male Athlete – Kameli Sauduadua
Overall Best Female Athlete – Heleina Young
Overall Best of the Best Male Athlete – Petero Veitaqomaki
On the IAAF Scoring Tables the highest ranked performance by a male athlete was Kameli Sauduadua (400m – 47.47 seconds worth 1015 points). Using the same tables the top female performance was by Heleina Young (11.87 in the 100m, worth 1017 points).
In the Mini Games and the Commonwealth Games, no Fiji athlete scored above 1000 points on the IAAF Scoring Tables. Congratulations to both Heleina and Kameli.
The full results of all of the events is found on this website. The IAAF Scoring Tables are available from the IAAF website.