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Mary-Estelle Kapalu-Mahuk

Mary-Estelle Kapalu-Mahuk

As the 2017 Mini Games in Port Vila, Vanuatu, draw closer, many of the overseas teams and officials will have dealings with Mary Mahuk. She is part of the large team, which is working day by day to ensure the Games are a success. Her role is Sports and Pacific Games Association (PGA) Relations, looking after the 24 PGAs in the region

mary estell
Mary at work in the 2017 Games HQ

Many newcomers to our sport will not know of this extraordinary woman. She is Vanuatu’s greatest, and most successful sportswoman, to date.

Mary-Estelle first represented her country in the inaugural Mini Pacific Games Games in Honiara in 1981. At that stage she was a 15-year-old schoolgirl at Malapoa College in the nation’s capital. She finished in 4th position in the 400m in her debut.

In the 1983 Apia SPG she made the final of the 200m and won the bronze medal in the 400m. By the 1985 Mini Games in Rarotonga she moved up to 2nd in the 400m, behind the formidable Brigitte Hardel from New Caledonia.

In 1985 Mary-Estelle moved to PNG to attend the Goroka Teachers’ College. Her Athletics prowess took off from this moment. In PNG she had a lot of top-level competition to always keep her striving to be better. Living in this more competitive environment was very beneficial for her. On a weekly basis she was competing with PNG’s best – Elanga Buala, Barbara Ingiro, Hilda Roy and expatriate sprinter, Carol Eveleigh.

With Vanuatu not competing at the 1987 SPG in Nouméa, we had to wait until the 1991 Games in Port Moresby to see the experienced, much improved, and determined Mary-Estelle reach the top of the podium. And she did dominate the 400m (Games and National Record of 55.82 seconds) and the 400m Hurdles (60.98 seconds for a National Record) with superb performances.

In her Home Games in Port Vila in 1993 Mary broke the South Pacific Best mark to win the 400m with a time of 54.25 seconds and won gold in the 400m Hurdles. She was one of the favourites of the Games in front of her fellow countrymen at the Korman Stadium. She was part of the flame relay in the stadium during the Opening Ceremony, and carried the message from the Pacific Games Council to signify the opening of the Games.

In the Tahiti SPG of 1995 Mary won the gold in her two signature events – the 400m (54.69 seconds) and the 400m Hurdles (59.65 seconds) and picked up additional medals in the 200m and the 800m. Her great strength was on display in Tahiti that year.

All told Mary-Estelle has won 8 Pacific Games gold medals, and four additional medals.

In 1998 Oceania Athletics held the first ever Grand Prix Series. The Port Vila leg was the most successful Oceania GP held. The crowds flocked to the Korman Stadium to see Mary-Estelle. She was living in PNG and the local fans had very little opportunity to see her. She had not competed in a serious competition on home soil since the 1993 Mini Games.

In 1999 in Guam the flow of medals continued. Games Records in the 400m (54.30 seconds) and the 400m Hurdles (58.90 seconds), were supplemented by medals in the 200m and 800m again. Just getting better and better.

In addition to Pacific Games accolades, Mary competed at three Olympics (Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney), four IAAF World Championships (Tokyo, Stuttgart, Goteborg and Sevilla), and finished in 7th position in the Final of the 400m Hurdles at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games.

To commemorate the country’s participation in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Vanuatu Post issued an 80 vatu stamp featuring Mary-Estelle. The following year it was over-printed for the South Pacific Mini Games.

In the 1994 Oceania Athletics Championships she won the 400m and in the Adelaide Champs (2000), just prior to the Sydney Olympics, she won the 400m and the 400m Hurdles.

Mary holds four national records in standard events. They have stood the test of time, but she is getting a bit impatient waiting for a new group of athletes to come along and challenge her records. The NR’s are – 200m (24.85 from SPG 1995), 400m (53.92 from World Championships 1995), 800m (2:13.69 from SPG 1995) and 400m Hurdles (58.68 from the Atlanta Games 1996).

Married to PNG citizen John Mahuk (14th February 1990), Mary continued her Athletics career, occasionally having maternity breaks. John and Mary-Estelle have two children, Stephanie and Troy. In June 2017, the youthful Mary became a grandmother for the first time. Her son, Troy, also works for the Games Organising Committee and is responsible for Venues and Operations.

This meri Tanna, comes from a culture that has produced many good athletes. In recent times men such as Moses Kamut and Tawai Keiruan come to mind. This small volcanic island has produced its share of champions. The three athletes mentioned own ten current Vanuatu National Records. See the Academy Award nominated film Tanna to get an insight into this special part of Vanuatu.