By Daniel Kerwin and Ingrid Cosnier, Games News Service
PORT MORESBY, July 17 – If you were within earshot of BSP Stadium for Thursday night’s Port Moresby 2015 Pacific Games athletics action, there would have been little doubt what was going on inside.
A trio of gold medals for Papua New Guinea in the final three events on the track left the crowd in a deafening frenzy, especially after the hosts took a pair of desperately coveted gold medals in the men’s and women’s 4x400m relay.
“This crowd is amazing,” Nelson Stone (PNG) said. “Because of this crowd, Team PNG is where it is now, leading. Without this crowd I don’t think there’s motivation, I don’t think there’s push, I don’t think there’s drive. I love this crowd. Thank you very much.”
Stone ran the last leg of the men’s 4x400m relay, holding off a challenge from Fiji’s Ratu Banuve Tabakaucoro, bringing the biggest cheers of the evening in a night that already had seen no shortage of celebration from the PNG masses.
Stone and teammates Mowen Boino (PNG), Kaminiel Matlaun (PNG) and Theo Piniau (PNG) finished in a time of three minutes, 13.86 seconds, ahead of Fiji’s (Anasa Kaito, Ratutira Narara, Vilisoni Rarasea Sailosi, Tabakaucoro) 3:15.35. Solomon Islands took bronze in 3:28.32.
The PNG women’s 4x400m relay team suffered a blow when Betty Burua (PNG) sustained an injury in the women’s 200m race, thrusting reserve Afure Adah (PNG) into the spotlight.
After three legs Fiji had the lead in the race, but PNG anchor Toea Wisil quickly made up the gap, urged on the entire way by a rising wave of emotion from the crowd as she authoritatively crossed the line in first place.
“I have the slowest time, so I was really glad that Toea could catch up and finish it off,” Adah said.
“(Wisil’s) really inspiring, she’s always encouraging and telling me to stay calm and run my race.”
The gold made Wisil a perfect four-for-four in her events so far at the Games.
The PNG team of Sharon Kwarula, Donna Koniel, Adah and Wisil finished in 3:45.13, just over a second ahead of Fiji’s foursome (3:46.26) and New Caledonia (4:10.22).
Men’s 100m champion Tabakaucoro added the 200m title to his list of achievements, setting a new Games record of 20.53 in the process. The previous record was 21.13.
“I knew the record was going to be broken today,” Tabakaucoro said. “I was hoping to go under the Olympic qualifying time, which is 20.5 seconds. I was just 0.03 seconds above that, but I have done what I have to. It can be fixed, it is not too late.”
He was followed by the PNG pair of Stone (21.28) and Piniau (21.37). Stone and Piniau were the gold and silver medalists, respectively, in the 400m event on Wednesday.
“At the end of the day the best man wins, and the Fijian (Tabakaucoro) is the best,” Stone said.
Prior to her 4x400m success, Wisil had earlier taken her third gold of the Games in the women’s 200m, winning in a time of 24.05 that left her with breathing room ahead of the Fijian pair of Younis Bese (25.21) and Sisilia Seavula (25.41).
Burua managed to finish fourth in the race before succumbing to her injury.
Papua New Guinea also had success in the women’s 1500m race, with Miriam Goiye (PNG) taking a photo finish against Jenny Albert (PNG) with a time of 4:45.44, two hundredths ahead of her teammate.
Poro Gahekave (PNG) completed a podium sweep for the hosts in the event, crossing the line in 4:51.72.
The men’s 5000m race saw a rematch between the top two finishers from Tuesday’s 10000m race, with 10000m silver medalist Nordine Benfodda (NCL) getting revenge on 10000m gold medalist Rosefelo Siosi (SOL).
An early crowd-pleasing tussle at the front between Siosi and Kupsy Bisamo (PNG) allowed Benfodda to sit back and let his fellow competitors waste their energy before charging past to grab gold in 15:54.55.
“It was a very tactical race, one of those races where you really needed to be tactical because of the wind,” Benfodda said. “We knew each other’s capabilities, so you had to be really focused on your strategy, otherwise it was over, as I did for the 10km which cost me the medal.”
“They didn’t catch me twice at these Games.”
Benfodda was especially appreciative of his 5000m gold in light of the focus he had put into taking home at least one title from the Games.
“I needed this medal, this was my race, for me, for my family that is not here, for all the sacrifices that we have to endure with the training, for the small disputes when I have to go and train, so I dedicate this medal to my wife and my son,” Benfodda said.
Kwarula was aiming to defend her Noumea 2011 crown in the women’s 100m hurdles, and did not fail to protect her title.
Kwarula crossed the line in 14.40 for gold, followed by Lucie Turpin (NCL) in a time of 14.53 and Manuella Gavin (NCL) in 14.68.
Kwarula was disappointed not to better her personal best of 13.5 seconds, but she said that she was happier with her gold medal this time around since she ran faster than in Noumea, and was racing in front of her home crowd.
“It’s not about time, it’s about winning gold, so I’m excited about it,” Kwarula said.
“I’ve always competed out of the country, and here with the home crowd, I felt that it’s something very important and unique to be running here at home.”
PNG had a 1-2 finish in the men’s 110 hurdles, with Wala Gime (14.80) outstretching his more experienced compatriot Boino (14.94) at the finish line.
“It feels awesome, I thank the crowd,” Gima said of PNG taking the top two spots in the race.
Tutaia Galoiola (SAM) took bronze in a time of 15.50.
A long-time competitor for PNG, Boino said that these will be his last Pacific Games.
If they are his last, he will always remember the PNG crowd on this Friday evening, willing him home, from home.