Starting with PNG Hall of Fame inductee, Edward Laboran (1963) and continuing for the next six decades, PNG has produced many successful jumpers. The honour roll is lengthy with the list of successful gold medal winners in Pacific Games competitions being impressive. Names that standout in the crowd of athletes are – Kila Raula, Peiwa Waea, Sandy Katusele, Lily Tua, Betty Burua, Angela Way, Annie Topal, Roland Hure and Peniel Richard.
The most successful of PNG jumpers has been, however, Rellie Kaputin. Her athletics career has made her one of PNG’s most successful athletes, and by far the most successful in the jumps. Her medal tally in Pacific Games competitions is 6 gold and 3 silver.
In addition, she has performed with distinction in Oceania Athletics competitions and for her universities in the USA.
Rellie was born on 12th March 1993 at Vunapope in East New Britain with her mother coming from Tinganolom and her father from Matupit. Rellie lived at Tinganolom Village. She inherited a wealth of athletics’ culture as she grew up, with the Matupit Brigade providing a significant number of top athletes for PNG, and much inspiration.
Rellie’s athletics career started in 2003 when she was in Grade 3 at Kabagap Primary School – concentrating on sprints. From there she went to Kokopo Secondary where, in addition to the usual sprinting events, she added the High Jump, Long Jump and Triple Jump to her repertoire.
Following sporting and academic success at Kokopo Secondary, in 2013 Rellie was awarded a scholarship to attend North Iowa Community College in the USA.
Rellie’s PNG national career began in 2012 when she was selected to represent her province in the 2012 PNG Games, held in ENBP. She came third in the Long Jump (4.86m) and second in the Triple Jump (10.92m). The following year she came first in the PNG Nationals in the High Jump (1.56m), second in both the Long Jump (5.38m) and the Triple Jump (10.59m). Also, in 2013 she represented PNG at the Mini Games in Wallis & Futuna with 1.45m in the High Jump (5th) and 5.05m in the Long Jump (5th).
Now America beckoned, and once in Iowa with regular coaching and competition she returned to the Pacific and at the 2014 had a clean sweep of wins in the jumps at the PNG Nationals – High Jump (1.62m), Long Jump (5.47m) and the Triple Jump (11.67m). Later that same year she competed in the Oceania Championships in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, finishing second in the High Jump (1.57m), second in the Long Jump (5.56m) and third in the Triple Jump (11.35m).
Rellie’s steady progression in all three of the jumps continued in Iowa, and then she returned to PNG to get ready for the Pacific Games, to be held in Port Moresby in July.
Under the guidance of Australian jumps’ coach, Phil Newton, Rellie was delivered to a new height. In front of her home crowd, she won the High Jump (1.77m), Long Jump (5.97m) and the Triple Jump (12.65m) in each event establishing a new PNG National Record and breaking the PNG All-comers Record. She was one of the stars of the Games contributing spectacularly to PNG’s 24 gold medal haul.
Following a successful career at North Iowa Community College, Rellie was awarded a scholarship to West Texas A & M University (2016-2018).
Success, and a continued improvement in her Long and Triple Jump performances, saw her participate in the World Athletics Championships in London in 2017 (Long Jump – 5.59m), the 2017 Mini Pacific Games in Port Vila where she was second in the High Jump (1.65m), and winning gold in the Long Jump (6.40m) and the Triple Jump (13.26m for a new Games Record).
The highlight of Rellie’s career in the USA came in 2017 when she won the NCAA Division II national championship in the Triple Jump with a leap of 13.28m. This broke her school’s record, and the PNG National Record
The following year she was part of the PNG Team to the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, where she jumped 6.18m in the qualifying round.
2019 was a vintage year for Rellie. World Athletics ranks the Oceania Championship as the highest and most important competition in our region – outranking even the Commonwealth Games. The competition was totally dominated by Australia and New Zealand, but Rellie shocked the pundits by winning the Long Jump with a new National Record of 6.50m – defeating the Australian favourite by one centimetre! Not content with that she also won the Triple Jump with a leap of 13.04m. Island athletes won only 3 gold medals at this meet, and Rellie had won two of them.
A few months later at the Pacific Games in Apia, Rellie again won the Long Jump (6.15m) but had to settle for second in the High Jump (1.68m) and the Triple Jump (12.44m). The wet stormy conditions made it hard to be at her best in the Triple Jump.
Following on from the Pacific Games in Apia (2019) Rellie had a serious leg injury that took a long time to be overcome. Towards the end of her rehabilitation, she moved to Australia to work with coach Phil Newton. Shortly after moving to Northern NSW, the Covid-19 lockdown struck. Rellie was lucky to be in an area with no transmission of the virus and as her injury continued to improve, she started to get back to good form, and with the advantage of Australian competition she managed to climb the World Athletics Ranking List.
Rellie has shown that an athlete can progress from relatively modest performances to one of the best in Oceania with determination, good coaching, regular competition and a will to win.
She is looking forward to the great competitions in the next few years and will be targeting the Mini Games in Saipan (2022) and the Pacific Games in Honiara (2023). Expect her to once again include the Triple and High Jumps in her programme. She has expressed a desire to be seriously considered for the 4 x 100m Relay in those Games. She has excellent speed.
Phil Newton has had a long history of coaching in PNG and coaching PNG athletes. In the 1980’s and 1990’s he was involved in several of the Colgate Camps for up-and-coming athletes. He participated in coaching camps in Goroka, Lae and Rabaul. I first met Phil in 1989 when he was visiting East New Britain.
He assumed the coaching role for Rellie at crucial stages in her career – the lead-up to the 2015 Pacific Games in Port Moresby, the lead-up to the 2019 Oceania Championships in Townsville and in the 2020-2021 attempt to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
Many other PNG athletes have benefitted from Phil’s expertise – especially the jumpers and combined-event athletes.
(Photo above) Rellie and coach Phil Newton conferring during the Australian National Championships
in Sydney in April 2021 and (photo below) after the final had concluded. Rellie jumped a seasonal best
of 6.25m in both the qualifying round and in the final.
Article and photos by Bob Snow