1963 is when it all began!
The idea was later adopted by the South Pacific Commission. At a meeting of nine Territories, held in Nouméa during March 1961, Fiji was awarded the honour of hosting the very first Games.
At the inaugural South Pacific Games in Suva (1963) there were 13 countries or territories including a total of 646 athletes.
The New Hebrides sent a delegation of 30 members (26 male, two female and two officials) representing three sports:
● Football had 13 Athletes, all male;
● Tennis had 4 Athletes, (2 male & 2 female);
● Athletics had 11 Athletes (all male).
The team placed 7th overall with two medals. Chef De Mission was Remy Delaveuve and General Team Manager was Douglas Williams.
New Hebrides’ first medal was awarded to Jack Waewo in the Men’s Pole Vault with a jump of 3.50m. This was the same height as the winner, Alipate Latu (TON), but Waewo was awarded the silver medal behind the Tongan on a count-back.
In 1966, the second SPG was held in Nouméa where Team New Hebrides won two bronze medals.
The first was to the Rugby Union Team and the second to Football, where New Hebrides defeated PNG 5-2 in the bronze medal play-off.
On the track, the new recruits to Athletics were going through a good apprenticeship with Jean Bai Tranut, Yves Rolland and Joseph Jacobe making their presence felt in the preliminary rounds of the 100m. Their time would come three years later.
At the next South Pacific Games in Port Moresby (1969), the New Hebrides sprinters were much more assured and were stronger and faster. Charles Godden won the silver medals in both the 100m (11.0s) and 200m (22.1s).
Two additional Athletics medals went to Team New Hebrides with Saria Kaluat taking silver in the 200m (25.9s) and the Women’s 4x100m Relay Team (Leisdale Mangawai, Lois Hafu, Merilyn-Rose Leo & Saria Kaluat) adding a fourth silver to the team’s tally in a time of 54.7s.
The respected Pacific Islands Monthly (published from 1930-2000) commented on the quality of the New Hebrides sprinters.
This significant improvement in standard, lead to NHs first ever gold medal with the Men’s 4x100m Team winning in the time of 42.5s.
The quartet of Jean Bai Tranut, Yves Rolland, Seru Korikalo and Charles Godden have been written into the nation’s sporting history as achieving this special milestone. The men beat the favourites Fiji, while PNG was disqualified.
Many gold medals have been won since, but they were the country’s first.
There was also glory for female sprinter Saria Kaluat. She achieved sporting history by being the first NH woman to win a South Pacific Games medal - a silver in both the 200m (25.9s) and 4x100m Relay (54.7s).
Bronze medals went to boxers L. Sen in the Lightweight Division and to E. Tasso in the Light-Welterweight Division.
The Men’s Golf Team also came third in their competition
In their best medal haul to-date, New Hebrides won one gold, four silver and three bronze medals.
Source: Bob Snow - Pacific Athletics historian