Another full house at Honiara’s Aquatic Centre on day two of swimming at the Sol2023 Pacific Games featured eight events with 15 preliminary heats plus eight finals on Tuesday.
In the first final of the night, Tasi Limtiaco of Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) moved two steps closer to his triple-gold goal after winning the men’s 50m breaststroke with a time of 29.17 seconds. Micah Masei from American Samoa (29.48) finished second and New Caledonia’s Alexandre Gane (29.60) finished third.
Before Sol2023, FSM had never won a medal in swimming at a Pacific Games and now they have two golds, courtesy of Limtiaco.
“It’s definitely a step closer to the triple crown, that’s my goal,” a delighted Limtiaco told the Pacific Games News Service. “I thought that the hundred (men’s 100m breaststroke) was going to be the hardest race, but I think that one (50m breaststroke) was the toughest one just because Micah from American Samoa, he was fast in the prelims so I was a little bit worried, but I managed to hold it together and get him at the end. I’m really happy.”
The women’s 50m breaststroke saw another rare change in gold medallists with Mary Connolly, one of only two swimmers from Cook Islands at this Games, claim victory with a time of 33.21 seconds, while Fijian teenager Kelera Mudunasuoko (33.42) picked up silver. In another turn of events Georgia-Leigh Vele (34.75) from Papua New Guinea (PNG) made the podium for bronze, making this the only event of the night where New Caledonia did not win a medal.
Connolly, also a Pacific Games debutant, expressed her delight that her first medal of Sol2023 is gold. She said: “I was trying to take a Games a medal home for Cook Islands and I’m very happy that it’s a gold, especially since the competitors were so strong.”
Mudunasuoko, who also won Fiji’s first medal of the Games on Monday said: “I was looking at the seed times and I was a bit confident. My friends were motivating me and I just had to do my best.”
Vele won PNG’s first swimming medal at Sol2023 and her first medal at a Pacific Games. However, a confusing end to the race saw Fiji’s Anahira McCutcheon disqualified, resulting in Vele being elevated to the bronze podium position from fourth.
She explained: “I heard that there was a DQ (disqualification) but I didn’t know what lane it was, and I didn’t know if it was my race or the boys before me, so I just went off doing my own thing and then a few of the girls from our team came over and told me (I had won bronze).
“It is such a proud moment. I was hoping for this. You never know what could happen, but I tried my best and God did the rest.”
Chloe Ameara, Vanuatu’s first ever female swimmer at the Pacific Games also raced in the 50m breaststroke and the 50m backstroke in the preliminary heats. She did not make the podium but told the Pacific Games News Service that she has learnt from those experiences.
“It was very fun, and I am very excited for the other events because these are definitely not my strongest events. Where I’m from, we don’t have very big facilities, so it was definitely an experience training and racing in a 50m pool and the outdoor pool, it was a good experience to race in,” she said.
In the men’s 200m individual medley, John-William Dabin of New Caledonia swam the winning time of 2 minutes and 3.81 seconds, followed in second place by teammate Alexandre Gane with a time of 2:09.33. Cook Islands’ Wesley Roberts scooped his second medal of the Games by claiming bronze with a time of 2:09.81.
Dabin told the Pacific Games News Service that he has enjoyed the public support at the Aquatic Centre.
“I am happy to represent New Caledonia and seeing the public coming to support us, it shows that they really love the sport and it motivates us to have more energy and do better.”
Silver medallist Alexandre Gane said: “I am proud because it was challenging, we had high hopes for this race, so particularly to win the double (gold and silver) with John-William, I’m happy. It was a challenging race in front of us, up against Wesley (Roberts), it was a good contest for second place, but I’m very happy to win this silver medal tonight.”
Bronze medallist Roberts, the only other Cook Islands Swimmer at Sol2023, also won gold in the men’s 400m freestyle on day one. He told the Games News Service that he just wanted to continue the success of Cook Islands.
“I think three medals in two days with only two swimmers at the Pacific Games, trying and getting the job done, and to put our flag up and to get it raised is really special.
“This is her (teammate Mary Connolly’s) first Pacific Games and I’m really proud of her. This is her first event (women’s 50m breaststroke) and to go out there and win is amazing.”
In the women’s 200m individual medley, Lara Grangeon-De-Villele comfortably swam the winning time of 2 minutes and 20.06 seconds to secure gold. In second place was Deotille Videau of Tahiti with a time of 2:28.40. Maiana Flament (2:29.67) from New Caledonia finished third.
Grangeon-De-Villele (NCL) dominated the pool again on day two picking up another two gold medals bringing her individual total up to four gold so far at Sol2023.
Speaking to the Games News service she said: “I feel very happy to represent New Caledonia in winning the four gold medals. This is my fourth Pacific Games and winning these gold medals is like a victory and I’m happy to be part of the Pacific Games. My expectations for the rest of this week is to win more gold for New Caledonia.”
In the men’s 50m backstroke, Tahiti’s Keha Desbordes claimed gold in 26.20 seconds while New Caledonia’s Ethan Dumesnil (26.70) added the silver to his Sol2023 medal collection and fellow Tahitian Teiva Gehin (26.93) finished with bronze.
The women’s 50m backstroke saw New Caledonia’s Malou Douillard pick up her first gold of the night in 30.74 seconds before she went on to win another gold in the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay. Fiji’s McCutcheon (31.07), who missed out on a bronze medal in the women’s 50m breaststroke due to a disqualification, picked up silver medal and Tahiti’s Deotille Videau (31.59) claimed bronze, bringing her day two medal count to three.
After her gold medal win, Douillard said: “I am very determined to win gold and I want to do all I can to win gold, so I am very happy.”
Fourteen-year-old McCutcheon celebrated her silver by dedicating it to her mum.
“I didn’t really think that I was going to get silver but I’m really glad that I did. I’m quite happy because I put a lot of work into that race.
“I’d like to dedicate this medal to my mum. Thank you. Because she’s been the one that drives me to all my trainings at four o’clock in the morning and takes me in the afternoon and stuff and I don’t think I would have come this far without her,” she said.
Like day one, the night ended with the relays. This time the swimmers took to the pool for the 4x200m freestyle relay, which New Caledonia again dominated and won gold in across both men and women.
In the men’s 4x200m freestyle, New Caledonia won in 7 minutes and 38.62 seconds. Tahiti (8:02.27) maintained their position on the podium for silver in the men’s relays and Northern Mariana Islands (8:16.38) secured bronze.
In the women’s 4x200m freestyle, the order of medallists replicated day one’s 4x100m, with New Caledonia (8:41.52) securing gold, Tahiti (9:13.24) silver, and Fiji (9:18.98) bronze.
At the end of day two, New Caledonia’s medal count at swimming increased to 21 (10 gold, six silver, five bronze), Tahiti have 11 (one gold, five silver and five bronze), Fiji five (three silver and two bronze), Cook Islands three (two gold and one bronze), Federated States of Micronesia two (both gold), Samoa two (one gold and one silver) and Northern Mariana Islands two (both bronze). American Samoa (silver) and Papua New Guinea (bronze) have one medal each.
Day three of swimming will feature more action at the Aquatic Centre with the preliminary heats taking place from 9:30am – 10:30am and the finals in the evening from 6:30pm.
By Melissa Velvel Fare and and Roselyn Toliliu, Pacific Games News Service