To celebrate the return of warm, sunny, rain-free conditions, the athletes turned-in some stunning performances today. It was a case of records, records and more records. By the end of the day the sport had been renamed Field and Track. The field events took centre stage and produced some memorable throws and jumps.
The Men's Hammer Throw started the day's proceedings. Petelo Toto (NCL) took the lead at the end of the first round with a throw of 50.67m. Brentt Jones (NFI) sent the 7.26kg hammer a distance of 47.33m to temporarily take second position. In the second round Erwan Cassier took over the lead with a throw of 50.81m. We did not know it then, but the gold, silver and bronze medals had been decided. In Round 3 Mathieu Roulet (NCL) came to within 34cms of Brentt, but just could not make it to the third position.
Petelo Toto improved his mark by a few centimeters to 50.74m - but that was as close to the gold as he would get. Slowly gaining in confidence, and refining his technique, Erwan Cassier improved to 52.62m, 54.09m and then in the final throw of the competition, when he knew the gold was his, he let fly with a massive throw of 56.38m to break the long-standing record of 56.26m held by Pierre-Chanel Sao (NCL) from the 1989 Games in Nuku'alofa.
Erwan went one better than his father, Frederic Cassier, did in the Cook Islands Mini Games in 1985. In the second edition of the Mini Games Frederic won the silver with a distance of 54.24m. Frederic won a total of 11 throws medals in Pacific Games competition, including the Hammer gold in 1983 in Apia. Erwan won the gold in the Hammer in the 2007 Apia SPG - 24 years after his father won at the same venue - Apia Park.
Brentt Jones, who says that he is now ready to retire (but will he?), has won Hammer Throw medals at seven Pacific Games and Mini Games - including the gold on his home turf of Norfolk Island in 2001.
While the Hammer was underway the Heptathlon competition started. The first event - the 100m Hurdles - saw the narrowest of wins for Fiji's Soko Salaniqiqi (Long Jump gold in Apia in 2007). In second position was Terani Faremiro (PYF) (Heptathlon gold in Apia 2007) and in third, Johanna Sui (PYF). They were the standouts in the five-strong field. After the High Jump and the Shot Put Terani had put a good distance between herself and Johanna and Soko. The final event of the day - the 200m - saw a good win for Soko, over Terani. She knew that she had closed the gap on her rival. At the end of day one the points were:
Terani Faremiro (PYF) 2919
Soko Salaniqiqi (FIJ) 2812
Johanna Sui (PYF) 2731
Elise Mercier (PYF) 2021
Samantha Lockington (COK) 1972
The heats of the Men's 200m were held mid-afternoon. The three Fiji runners - Banuve Tabakaucoro, Tevita Nalovo and Niko Verekauta - cruised to easy wins in times that do not indicate anything at this stage. They were all a "study of cool" as they eased down the straight. The Tongans Andy Lui, `Aisea Tohi and Kaufusi Kavaka also look good to go through to the final. The semi-finals will be held tomorrow.
The men's 1500m Final produced an unexpected result. Cedric Oblet from New Caledonia competed in the 10000m last night and won the bronze medal. To compete in a high-intensity race like the 1500m so soon after was not expected. And compete he did. While the more fancied runners - Varasiko Toge (FIJ) and Arnold Sorina (VAN) kept tabs on each other he eased away at the front and soon had an unassailable lead. By the time the others realised it, it was too late. It was a good, but slow (4:11.17), tactical win from a wily, experienced athlete. Arnold got the silver and Varasiko the bronze.
The women's 10000m promised so much, but sadly did not deliver. Only three athletes fronted the starting line, and with a first lap run in 2 minutes we knew it was going to be a pedestrian affair. Not wanting to be beaten by a 12-year-old (Betty Babalu), Josiane Chipeaux (NCL) started to ease away. Anne Beaufils (NCL) and Betty Babalu (SOL) were content to keep each other company as they watched the gold medal slip out of reach. In the dying stages of the race Betty decided that she should try to clinch the silver and with surprising speed and spring in her step she put a huge distance between herself and Anne. Could she have challenged earlier to add the 10000m gold to the one she already had for the 5000m? But how can you accuse a 12-year-old of lack of experience!! The winning time for Josiane was 41:24.10, over 44 seconds ahead of the baby of the field. Satisfaction for Josiane who did not finish the Apia 2007 edition of this race.
And so back to this great sport of ours - Field and Track. As the less-than-gripping track events unfolded, we had a cracker of a Javelin competition unfolding before our eyes. In the field were the three medal winners from the 2007 SPG in Apia - Sosefo Panuve (WAF), Leslie Copeland (FIJ) and Mathieu Roulet (NCL). In addition the field also included the current French national Junior Champion, Pierre Vaisioa (NCL) and the newly crowned Hammer Throw gold medal winner, Erwan Cassier (NCL).
Rumours abounded about who was carrying an injury, and who was in poor form and who was not well-prepared for the event. Even if all of these stories were true it mattered not-at-all. The competition was dynamite.
Leslie Copeland took the lead with his first throw (68.89m) and was never headed. He improved with each of his subsequent throws to be 70.10m at the half-way mark. Behind him Sosefo Panuve and Mathieu had a see-sawing contest that continued to the wire. In his final throw Mathieu threw 13cms farther than Sosefo to decide who got the silver and who got the bronze.
With the record distance of 73.58m in mind (set by his coach, James Goulding [FIJ] in the 1997 Pago Pago Games), Leslie unleashed a mighty throw that had the officials getting the steel tape in case it was a record. It was "only" 73.23m, and a slight feeling of disappointment swept the BCI Stadium. On his last throw of the competition, knowing that the gold was safe, Leslie sent the javelin on a near perfect trajectory, using his well-drilled copybook technique. There was no disappointment now - the javelin landed well beyond the orange cone, which indicated the old record. Out came the steel tape (for the second time of the afternoon) and very careful measurement was made. Leslie had broken the Games Record and established an excellent personal best of 74.98m. He was back from the wilderness and two years of disappointing performances. Well done.
And while this was underway we had the Men's Long Jump also taking place. The best-ever Pacific Islands Long Jumper, Frederic Erin of New Caledonia - 8.09m - had been in good form this year. He won the bronze in the French Nationals, with a jump of 8.03m and was ranked third in that nation. Everybody knew that he was the likely winner, but there were also the silver and bronze medals awaiting suitable performances.
In his first jump, Frederic Erin smashed the Games Record by a staggering 52cms. (Steel tape time yet again). His 7.72m put the gold out of reach of the mere mortals. Not at all fazed was 17-year-old Raihau Maiau of French Polynesia. He had the credentials, having won his age division in the Pacific School Games in December of 2008. His 2009 form had been satisfactory, but not outstanding. He opened his account with 7.45m - to the disbelief of many. That mark was checked and double-checked - but it stood. He could not believe it himself.
Meanwhile the two fighting for the bronze - Kainric Ozoux (NCL) and Ernest Petueli (FIJ) were having their own private battle. In the end Ernest got the bronze with a distance of 6.84m to Kainric's 6.80m.
At the top of the table, though, Raihau followed his "unbelievable" 7.45m with an excellent 7.24m, and then a 6.96m, and he had instant credibility. After the competition I asked him if he passed two of his last three jumps (and registered a foul on the other) because of injury or "shock". He said it was because of the shock at having jumped so much better than he had hoped-for.
Meanwhile Frederic was not finished. The steel tape was needed for his fifth jump as he bettered his own brand-new Games Record by an additional 2cm, to bring it to 7.74m. After the medal ceremony Frederic indicated that 2010 would see him dedicated to improving his ranking in Europe and bettering his personal best of 8.09m. He looks to be in superb form and we all hope that he remains injury-free and achieves his objective. Expect him to be in awesome form in 2011 in front of his home crowd. He knows that he can do a lot better and has a strong self-belief.
As the Men's Long Jump was reaching its concluding stages the Women's and Men's 400m Finals took place.
As expected Makelesi Batimala (FIJ) won easily in 55.71 seconds. She led a Fiji sweep of the medals with Paulini Korowaqa (58.02) and Makitalena Lokolokobuka (58.89) taking the silver and bronze. Makelesi now adds the 400m gold to the one she claimed in the 100m Final and is 2/3 of the way to achieving the sprint treble for the fourth time.
Niko Verekauta (FIJ) was just as dominant in the Men's 400m, winning in 48.83 seconds. Jocelyn Muntaner (PYF) came home strongly to win the silver with a time of 49.68, and Osea Dasalusalu (FIJ) won the bronze with a time of 49.92 seconds. Niko also has two of the three golds on his way to an expected sprint treble. He should complete that tomorrow unless Banuve Tabakaucoro or Tevita Nalovo can handle the bend better than him and hold off his late charge.
We are looking forward to many more finals on Day Four of competition. With medals on offer for 10 events the exciting percussion band will be working overtime as their pulsating Polynesian rhythms energise the crowd, the winning athletes and even the presenters. It is a great innovation and one that should be adopted in future Games.
The 10 medal events for tomorrow are - Men's High Jump, 110m Hurdles, Shot Put, 5000m & 200m, and the Women's 100m Hurdles, 1500m, Triple Jump, Heptathlon and 200m.
Leslie Copeland's record throwing performance