New Decade – Newly Independent Nation
Into the 1980’s with a new multi-sport games, new national name, newly won Independence and renewed optimism.
In the inaugural Mini South Pacific Games in Honiara in 1981, there were five different sports, fifteen participating countries, and for Vanuatu - a total of 12 medals.
Athletics contributed the majority with three silver medals and four bronze.
The silver medals went to George Taniel in the Men’s 100m (11.12 seconds), Willie Kalotiti in the Men’s 110m Hurdles (16.11) and Daniel Dam in the Men’s 400m Hurdles (56.94).
The bronze medals were won by Frances Whippy in the Women’s 800m (2:28.57), Isobelle Nicolas in the Women’s 100m Hurdles (16.40), Maryline Adams in the Women’s Shot Put (11.27m), and the Men’s 4 x 400m Relay Team (Daniel Dam, Reynolds Alatoa, George Taniel & Johnny Kahi) in 3:26.97.
In the Athletics competition, Vanuatu entered a 15-year-old student from Malapoa College, who in the next two decades was to make a very big name for herself, and Vanuatu. Her name – Mary-Estelle Kapalu – and she came fourth in the 1981 Women’s 400m Final.
The first full South Pacific Games attended by Vanuatu was in 1983 in Apia, Samoa, where they won one gold medal and nine bronze. Not surprisingly it was Athletics which claimed a total of six while Boxing collected two.
The gold medal was in the Men’s 100m, with Georges Taniel going one position better than he did two years earlier in Honiara. His time was 10.94 seconds, with countryman Jerry Jeremiah claiming the bronze (11.01 seconds). George won the bronze medal in the 200m, in 22.05 seconds.
Jeremiah showed his sprinting versatility by winning the bronze in the 400m in 49.81 seconds. Reynolds Alatoa and Daniel Dam performed well in the 400m semi-finals, and it was not surprising that Vanuatu won the bronze in the 4 x 400m Men's Relay in 3:22.79.
Dam combined his 400m speed-endurance and his hurdling ability to finish third in the 400m Hurdles (55.30 seconds), and Mary-Estelle Kapalu claimed her first Pacific Games medal with third place in the 400m (59.05 seconds).
Vanuatu’s prowess in Boxing continued with two bronze medals going to Paul Edovako (Bantamweight) and Henry Kalo (Lightweight).
The introduction of the Mini Games meant that the sporting fraternity of the Pacific Islands now had just two years to wait for their next big regional competition- the 1985 Mini South Pacific Games in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.
Vanuatu won one gold, four silver and two bronze – all coming from Athletics. There were only six sports, and Boxing was not one of them.
The gold medal was won by the quartet of Johnny Kahi, Daniel Dam, Ruben Wotu and Jerry Jeremiah in the Men’s 4 x 400m Relay in a time of 3:23.97.
The four silver medals went to Jerry Jeremiah in the 100m (10.93 seconds), Edouard Robsen in the High Jump (2.00m), Mary Estelle Kapalu in the 400m (58.95 seconds) and the Women’s 4 x 400m Relay – Rona Carlot, Alice Nicholas, Ruth Kanas and Mary-Estelle Kapalu (4:06.86).
Edouard’s High Jump national record still stands.
Bronze medals were won by Jerry Jeremiah in the 200m (22.19 seconds) and Alice Nicholas in the 800m (2:24.00).
The 1987 South Pacific Games in Nouméa were mired in controversy from the beginning.
The Vanuatu Government decided to boycott the Games, but the Football team broke the government boycott and sent what was locally dubbed as a “rebel team”. They lost to PNG in play-off for the bronze medal.
It is interesting to note that the PNG government had boycotted the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh because of New Zealand’s continuing sporting contacts with Apartheid-era South Africa.
Many large multi-sport Games were boycotted during this era, including the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the 1978 Edmonton Commonwealth Games, the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Some teams also did not send a full complement to the 1995 SPG in Tahiti to protest the nuclear testing program in Pacific waters.
Two years later Vanuatu was back on track with their team to the 1989 Mini South Pacific Games in Nuku’alofa, Tonga. Athletics again underpinned the success for Vanuatu winning all three medals in the tally.
There was bronze success in the Men’s 4 x 400m Relay (3:21.97), and for Andrea Rose Garae in the 1500m (5:04.85).
As the 1980’s drew to a close the question begged - What would the next decade hold for Vanuatu in the South Pacific Games and the Mini Games? Good news was just around the corner.