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Normally Fiji is in a very enviable position having many excellent athletes identified through the hugely successful Coca Cola Games for secondary school athletes. However, the Covid pandemic has caused these to be either cancelled or postponed for three years, and only the truly dedicated athletes have remained in training in an effort to gain selection to Team Fiji for the upcoming important meets.

  1. Oceania Athletics Championships in Mackay (7-11 June), 
  2. Mini Pacific Games in Saipan (17-25 June), 
  3. World Athletics Championship in Eugene (15-24 July) and 
  4. Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (28 July to 8 August). 

On the day before the competition was to begin, Albert Miller conducted a workshop for officials at the National Stadium, Laucala Bay. With the Fiji Nationals traditionally being held over Easter, there was a good turn-out of officials for the workshop being mainly students from the Fiji National University who were studying sports-related courses.

The only event on Friday 15th April was the 10000m for men and women. The winner of the men’s race was Avikash Lal in the time of 36:15.15, with the sole entrant in the women’s event being Vilimaina Naituku in 44:59.56.

Avikash won easily and cruised to a big lead when newcomer Benjamin Ashkettle dropped out of the race. Jeremiah Singh came second with the time of 37:59.91.

On Saturday 16th April, Avikash was once again in action in the 5000m, being the only one to finish. His time was 17:29.66. Vilimaina Naituku took the 5000m title with a time of 21:36.97. For fun, later in the day, Avikash entered and won the 800m (2:09.95) and was part of his team’s 4 x 400m Relay team. Good training for this Fiji Airlines flight attendant who finds it hard to fit in training sessions between flights.

Following the 5000m there was a busy programme of track and field events, with the majority of the competitors coming from the U16, U18 and U20 divisions.

The highest profile athlete in Fiji, Banuve Tabakaucoro, easily won the 100m and 200m titles in 10.96 and 21.62 seconds. Coming home after Banuve in the 200m was former 400m standout Samuela Railoa in 22.48 seconds. Samuela won the 400m in 49.49 seconds, his first sub-50 for some time. In the men’s 4 x 400m relay expect Banuve to unleash a strong leg. He is using the 400m to give him extra speed endurance for the shorter sprints and ran 49.06 earlier in April.

The women’s sprints were won by Braelynn Yee in 13.01 and 26.62 seconds. Another well known Fiji athlete, Shawntell Lockington won the open women’s high jump with 1.55m. Katarina Lilicama won the open women’s javelin with a creditable throw of 38.22m. Amania Veisa won the open men’s javelin with the distance of 63.90m. Fiji has had a very good history of javelin success over the decades.

Francis Kaiava won the men’s high jump with 1.95m. He also won the Triple Jump with a distance of 12.86m. Triple Jump star, Eugene Vollmer was making his presence felt on the ground with his photography work. Eugene is having a year off serious competition and is planning to make a good comeback in 2023. 

There were many events for Para-athletes. Fiji is the only Pacific Island nation, in Oceania Athletics, to have won a gold medal at a Paralympic Games – Iliesa Delana in the 2012 London Paralympics in the F42 High Jump. Iliesa is now a member of Fiji’s parliament. He is even depicted on the commemorative 50 cent coin that was minted in 2013.

The 2023 Honiara Pacific Games loom large in the eyes of all the main athletes in the Pacific. By then it is hoped that the Covid restrictions that have made 2020-2022 so difficult for every nation to compete at their best, will have been replaced by “situation normal”. Well, at least we can hope.

As always in athletics meets in Fiji it is heartening to see so many former athletes coming to the stadium as coaches with their own teams, or just to support the competition.

Once the Fiji Team for the upcoming Mini Pacific Games in Saipan is announced, a lot of hard work is in store to get the athletes to the required standard for a touring team. Fiji, however, is facing the same problems that all of the Pacific Island nations are experiencing as they prepare for the Oceania Championships in Mackay, and the Saipan Mini Games. The Athletics competition in Saipan commences in just 9 weeks’ time. Expect huge improvements in Team Fiji during this period, and huge improvements in all of their potential competitors from other Island nations.

The clock is ticking. Hope to see you in Mackay and Saipan.

Article and Images by BOB SNOW and Fiji Athletics