OCEANIA ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIPS – 2006 Apia (December 12-16) By Bob Snow (Photos and Story)
As in recent Oceania Athletics Championships, this 8th edition started with a Grand Prix Series. The original idea was to hold the competition in Suva, Fiji, but politics got in the way of the best made plans. We all knew that a military coup was likely to take place but were not sure of the timing. I arrived at Nadi International Airport and asked the immigration official “has it happened yet”, and he replied “yes, an hour ago”. Everyone was breathing a sigh of relief when it eventuated that the coup was peaceful and there was little to no disruption to day-to-day life for Fiji citizens and visitors.
However, Oceania Athletics had a duty of care towards all of the athletes and officials who were participating. They must not be endangered by any political activity. Suva seemed to be mission impossible, so it was on to Plan B.
In Plan B the Grand Prix squad stayed based in Nadi, and we travelled by bus to two venues at Xavier College in Ba, and then to Lawaqa Park in Sigatoka, where the quality grass tracks provided a good build-up for those who were heading to Apia for the main event.
It was heartening to see so many Fiji athletes, and former athletes, turn up to both venues in Ba and Sigatoka to help with the officiating and organising.
And so, it was on to Apia in Samoa, where the country (and the track at Apia Park) were being readied for the Pacific Games which were to be held there the following year.
We crossed the International Dateline and put our watches back 24 hours. Not too many years later they changed their time zone to join the majority of their Pacific Island neighbours, and (the home of many Samoans), New Zealand and Australia.
The Senior Championship had 38 events on offer – 20 for Men, 17 for Women and 1 Mixed Relay (a great innovation for the OAA Championships).
Australia and New Zealand won just over half of the gold medals (21) with the Island Nations collecting 19 gold – PNG 6, Samoa 4 & Fiji 3. All told 15 of the countries in attendance won medals.
In the Men’s 100m PNG’s Henry Ben took gold narrowly ahead of Moses Kamut (VAN) and Wally Kirika (PNG) who shared the silver medal. From Far North Queensland, Australia’s Peter Tuccandidgee won the 200m defeating Moses Kamut (VAN)
Many athletes doubled up to win two gold medals – Aunese Curreen (SAM – 800m & 1500m), Brendan Whelan (5000m, Half Marathon & second in the Cross Country), Mowen Boino (PNG – 110mH & 400mH) and Stephen Lasei (SAM – Shot & Discus). Justin Andre (GUM) won the Hammer Throw and Leslie Copeland (FIJ) once again won the Javelin. The High Jump saw a Championship Record of 2.07m when Australia’s Joshua Hall, and New Zealand’s William Crayford tied for first place. Joshua went on to win a bronze medal at the World Youth Championships in Ostrava in 2007 with a jump of 2.20m. A few years later Joshua was clearing 2.26m.
Another evergreen athlete was Australia’s Jay Stone. He got silver in the Long Jump here in Apia and was still competing in Senior and Masters’ events in 2019.
Of particular note was the performance of guest athlete, Frederic Erin (NCL) one of the most admired and respected athlete in the Pacific Islands. He finished first in the Long Jump (7.55m) and the Triple Jump (15.77m). He won the French Nationals and represented France at the European Championships.
The 4 x 100m Relay was won by Fiji (Matavesi Talawa, Jone Wainiqolo, Gabirieli Muatavola & Filipo Delai).
The Women’s 100m saw Mae Koime (PNG) with a Championship Record of 11.72, defeat compatriot Toea Wisil, but in the 200m and 400m New Zealand’s Monique Williams turned the tables on Mae (2 silvers) and Toea (2 bronze medals). Monique later went on win the 200m gold at the 2009 Universiade in Belgrade, Serbia.
The Oceania Championships are a wonderful springboard for all of the athletes of the region. So many have gone on to success in other championships and games.
PNG athletes had a clean sweep in the 800m with Betty Burua, Cecilia Kumalalamene and Salome Dell crossing the line in 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
Tereapii Tapoki (COK) won both the Discus (52.83) and the Javelin. Ana Po’uhila (TGA) won the Shot with a Championships Record throw of 16.57m and was second in the Javelin.
PNG won the 4 x 100m Relay with the team of Betty Burua, Mae Koime, Cecilia Kumalalamene and Toea Wisil.
The Mixed gender Medley Relay was won by the New Zealand Team – Nicola Hely, Daniel Natusch, Monique Williams and Sam Rapson.
In the Youth Championships there were 37 events with New Zealand (19) and Australia (11) taking the elephant’s share. The only Island nation with more than one gold was Samoa. It was interesting to see the names of some of the U18 competitors who would later make a name for themselves in the Senior Division.
Eugene Vollmer (FIJ) gold medal performances in the Triple Jump. Margaret Satupai (SAM) who had a stellar career as a Junior. Camille Buscomb (NZL) who has been a finalist in Olympic Games, World Championships and Commonwealth Games.
It was good to see the Cross-Country events incorporated into the Oceania Championships. The venue was a golf course at the other end of Upolu Island, near the airport. The race started on the coast, with the first few metres being on sand, before hitting the golf course proper. The event ended in a tropical downpour with the athletes welcoming the cool, and the photographers and officials seeking shelter.
At the end of competition all the athletes, officials and organisers retired to Vailima, the beautifully restored home of Robert Louis Stevenson, for a farewell function. It also was to celebrate the retirement of the RDC Director, Fletcher McEwen. It was a great way to bring to an end an action packed ten days of competition and travel in Fiji and Samoa.
We head north of the Equator for the next OAA Championships.