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  • Jamal Vira (VASANOC)

New decade brings new challenges


After Port Moresby (1969), it was just two years before the next installment of the South Pacific Games took place in Tahiti (1971), at which approximately 1500 male athletes and 500 female athletes participated.


From 1971, a four-year cycle was adopted to effectively fit in with other major multi-sport games such as the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. 


From winning a gold medal in Port Moresby, it was a quick reality-check for the New Hebrides team - as Vanuatu was formerly known - placing 12th on the medal table, winning just one silver medal and four bronze.


An article in the July 1971 edition of Pacific Islands Monthly indicated the NH Athletics team was unprepared for the task it had faced. 


Subsequent consultation with a visiting French national coach from Paris, much needed equipment was purchased and the first National Athletics Championships was held, with athletes from Tanna, Malekula and Santo to train in Efaté.


The Athletics competition produced two “surprise” bronze medalists, coming in the field events and not in the more favoured sprint events.


Talper Nial was third in the Men’s Javelin (62.40m) and Didin Kaltakae finished third in the Women’s Discus, throwing the 1kg disc a distance of 33.72m.


In Boxing, L. Vatou won a bronze medal in the Middleweight Division while Judo claimed its first medal with W. Chung claiming bronze in the Lightweight Division.


The highlight of the 1971 SPG for the ‘New Hebrides’ was coming runners-up and winning the silver medal in the Football competition, being defeated in the Final by near neighbour New Caledonia (1-7). In their pool matches, NH had defeated Fiji (6-4) and drawn with New Caledonia (0-0).


Following the performance in Tahiti, an article in the July 1971 edition of Pacific Islands Monthly indicated the NH Athletics team was unprepared for the task it had faced. 


Subsequent consultation with a visiting French national coach from Paris, much needed equipment was purchased and the first National Athletics Championships was held, with athletes from Tanna, Malekula and Santo to train in Efaté.


The South Pacific Games now ventured north of the Equator, to Guam in 1975. In the year preceding the Games there was a lot of negative publicity about Guam’s ability, and even willingness, to stage the Games.


Unfortunately this media trend continued both during and after the Games. Whatever problems were encountered with facilities, organisation and the weather, the competitors made it a Games to remember.


Continuous rain failed to dampen spirits and performances from the competitors with 16 athletics records broken across the 45 events. New Caledonia lead the medal tally, with NH placing 9th overall with one gold, three silver and four bronze.


The New Hebrides won its second gold medal courtesy of the late Philip Kating in the Boxing Welterweight Division.  In the final he defeated S.Malo from (what was then known as) Western Samoa. 


S. Nako won bronze in the Light Middleweight Division while in the Light Heavyweight group, Kevin Henderson also won bronze.


The remaining five medals were won in Athletics. 


Georgette Delaplane won silver in women’s 100m (12.78s) and 200m (25.74s).  In the 200m Georgette recorded the same time as the winner – Fiji’s legendary Miriama Kadavu Tuisorisori-Chambault. Miriama would later go on to represent New Caledonia in Pacific Islands competitions, and Fiji in major world competitions as eligibility regulations have always been slightly different in the SP Games.


Josina Tell-Riquet finished second in the Women’s High Jump with a leap of 1.51m while Delaplane won bronze in the Shot Put (10.42m).


The quartet of Leilong Kara, Jacinthe Aissau, Josina Tell-Riquet and Georgette Delaplane came third in the Women’s 4x100m Relay (50.0) behind French Polynesia and Fiji.


New Hebrides won the bid to host the 1979 SPG, however, because of the political unrest leading towards Independence in 1980, the 1979 Games were given to Fiji.


At the last SPG in Suva (1979),Team New Hebrides made their last appearance under that name before claiming independence. The next Games would welcome in a new decade and new national team - Vanuatu.


No gold medals on this occasion, securing just four silver and four bronze.


Cricket was introduced at the Games in Suva and the New Hebrides took the silver medal behind Team PNG, which would continue its dominance of the sport until 2015.


Boxing, once again, contributed two medals – a silver to Exley Rawor in the Lightweight Division, and another bronze to Kevin Henderson in the Light-Heavyweight category.


In Athletics silver medal medals went to Samuela Konataci (15.28s) just 0.02 seconds behind the winner Sakaraia Tuva (FIJ). Konataci was a Fijian, but represented New Caledonia. 


In the Women’s High Jump, Loain Pierrex (1.58m) also claimed a silver medal while bronze medals went to Leitaou Essaou in the Women’s 100m Hurdles (15.68), Jeanne Liliord in the Women’s Pentathlon (3022 points) and the Women’s 4x100m Relay Team - Leitaou Essaou, Anna Lemus, Nesbeth Meta and Maya Leeman (49.43s).


In the first six South Pacific Games, the New Hebrides won a total of 30 medals – two gold, 13 silver and 15 bronze.


But big changes were afoot.


The South Pacific Mini Games were introduced, with the inaugural event being held in Honiara, Solomon Islands, in 1981, where the newly independent country of Vanuatu would participate for the first time.

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