PORT MORESBY, July 13 – After ruling the pool at the Port Moresby 2015 Pacific Games, the New Caledonia swimming team wasn’t slowed down by the waves and currents of the open water events at Loloata Island on Sunday.
Thibaut Mary (NCL) won the men’s race and Charlotte Robin (NCL) obliterated the field in the women’s event to give New Caledonia a final tally of 22 gold medals in swimming events for the Games.
The race was delayed by more than two hours after inclement weather overnight interfered with the preparation of the course, and led to the race being reduced from 5km to 3km due to safety concerns because of a receding tide.
Changing the distance also altered the character of the race, which was welcomed by Mary.
“I prefer swimming in a pool compared to open swimming. It’s not something I prefer to do, but I make myself do it,” Mary said.
“Here I don’t think I could have finished five (km), so it was an advantage to only swim three.”
Mary finished the race in 40 minutes 49.66 seconds, edging Tahitian Hugo Lambert (40:52.18) and teammate Jeremie Dufourmantelle (40:55.28) in a sprint finish.
Robin was hardly challenged throughout the women’s race, her time of 47:13.25 being well ahead of silver medallist Matelita Buadromo (FIJ).
Buadromo reached the line in 49:02.72, just ahead of New Caledonia’s Leilani Flament 49:03.83 secs.
Originally scheduled to start at 07:00, the race didn’t begin until 09:35, which turned out to be just in time as the rapidly receding tide came close to forcing the race to be cancelled.
The swimmers said they were keenly aware of the issue while they were competing, particularly during the final stretch to the finish line.
“There were lots of waves and there wasn’t a lot of water at the last buoy,” Mary said.
“We were whipped onto the rocks a bit, and we were facing into the waves.”
“Every lap it was getting shallower and shallower, and sometime our hands were touching the bottom,” Buadromo said.
“But it is a race, you have to get through everything that comes up.”
The one racer who seemed almost completely unperturbed by the conditions was Robin, who also won the first gold of Port Moresby 2015 in the women’s triathlon.
As a keen surfer, she said she feels at home in rougher conditions.
“It was a good race, and (a) fun race because of the weather,” Robin said.
“The conditions were hard. I like these conditions with waves and currents, so I liked this race.”
A total of 16 men and 13 women competed in the event in the beautiful surroundings of Loloata Resort.
Making adjustments to open water swimming courses is not unprecedented, with a similar situation occurring at the 2003 Pacific Games in Fiji after a tropical storm blew away the buoys marking the race course.
Since open water swimming always takes place in varying conditions, the important thing is not how far the race is, but making sure the race takes place at all.
The successful completion of the event was certainly happy news for the New Caledonia swimming team, giving it a chance to add its first men’s gold medal to go along with 20 golds in women’s events and one mixed relay title.
“New Caledonia is very proud of all these gold medals,” Robin said. “We hope next week there will be gold medals again in athletics and all the other sports.”
By Daniel Kerwin, Games News Service