After a spectacular Opening Ceremony in Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium, it was time for the athletes to take centre stage, and over the next 11 days of competition over 250 athletes from across the Pacific will be taking part in 13 sports.
For team Cook Islands their Commonwealth Games started with a splash, as 16 year old Lanihei Connolly marked her debut at the Games by smashing her personal best by nearly one second, as she reached the semi finals of the Women’s 50m Breaststroke.
Lanihei says coming into the competition her aims were to get a new PB and reach a semi final, both of which she has done in her first event of the meet. Lanihei described how it felt walking into the stadium and stepping on the block, “it was so exciting walking out and hearing the crowd. It was so cool to race against some of the athletes at the top of the World. I am excited for what the future can bring.”
Looking to the future Lanihei said, “I'm excited to see the future of Cook Island swimming to see where it can go. I know there is good support there, so it looks good.”
For all of the swimmers at the Games, the support from the crowd and those back home is helping the athletes to push themselves further. Having previously been a flag bearer for the Cook Islands at the Tokyo Olympics, 400m Freestyle swimmer Wesley Roberts summed up what the support means for him, “This is my fourth major multi-sport event, so I know the vibe and now pay a bit more attention to see what's going on around me. It’s great to have all the support from everyone back home, I love every moment I get to look up and see my flag up there and from the bottom of my heart thank you.” Wesley finished his 400m Freestyle heat 8th, with a time of 4:00:64.
Elsewhere at the Games the team faced mixed fortunes, at Victoria Park in Leamington Spa, home to the Lawn Bowls for the next 9 days. In the Women’s Singles, Noora Mataio lost both of her opening matches, including a 21 - 13 loss to Shea Wilson from Norfolk Island. The Men’s Triple team faced similar results, with the team led by Royden Aperau, Aidan Zittersteijn and Jason Lindsay losing 25-15 to Australia and followed by a 19-11 defeat to Jersey.
In the afternoon session the Men's Pair team of Alex Kairua and Phillip secured a 23-12 win over the Falkland Islands. The Women’s Fours secured a close 14-11 win over Canada, before Emily Jim and her team lost 15-9 to India.
In the pool team Fiji had a number of athletes set new records including, Temafa Walimaiwai, who in the Men’s 50m Butterfly touched home 2nd in his heat with a new PB of 26.04. Describing his race, Temafa said whilst he felt there were some “small bits he could improve on”, achieving a new PB is all he could have asked for, “I’m so happy to get a personal best. This is one of our biggest aims, we come here to show that we've done our best and swim faster than we've ever done in our life, so I'm happy.”
Fiji also had more success in the pool, after the team of David Young, Cheyenne Rova, Rosemarie Rova and Hansel McCaig set a new National Record of 3:49:95 in the Mixed 4x100m Freestyle Relay. Hansel McCaig said “we set ourselves a goal time of 3 minutes 55 so it feels really good to beat that time and come away with a new record.” That isn’t the only goal for the team during the Championships. Hansel added, “we have another relay tomorrow, then we’ve got a few more individuals, we’re aiming to break our national record again as it means so much to us.”
At Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre, boxer Elia Rokobuli is heading into the round of 16 after receiving a ‘bye’ to the next round.
Over at the Lawn Bowls rink Fiji’s Men’s Triple team secured a narrow 13-12 win over Wales, followed by a more comfortable 20-12 victory over Norfolk Island. In the Women’s singles Litia Tikoisuva lost her opening match vs Shae Wilson from Norfolk Island, before securing a solid 21-13 win over South Africa’s Colleen Piketh. The Fijian Men’s pairs lost their opening match 18-14 to South Africa before, Rahika Prasad’s Women’s Fours took on Australia and lost 16-10.
In the Rugby 7s both the Mens and Womens team are hoping to return home with silverware in their cases. In the early pool stages both teams managed to maintain a 100% record, with the Women recording a 33-12 win over Scotland, followed by a strong 41- 0 victory against South Africa to put the rest of the sides on alert. In Pool C on the Men’s side, Fiji had an impressive 52-0 victory against Zambia, with captain Waisea Nacuqu scoring 13 points. In their second match of the day the team worked hard to earn a 19-12 win over Canada.
At the Table Tennis arena both of Fiji’s Men and Women’s suffered 3-0 defeats in both of their group matches.
After making its appearance at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Games, Squash has appeared at every competition since. Fijian Marika Matanatabu took to the court in his round of 64 match against Cayman Islands Jake Kelly in the Men’s singles. Marika won the first two games, however lost the tight match 3-2 after all five games were completed.
And at the glorious Sutton Park, Fijian pair Nikotimasi Croker and Rhys Cheer finished the Men’s sprint race 40th and 41st respectively.
Timon Aaree opened Kiribati’s Commonwealth campaign, by taking part in the Men’s Over 60kg-63.5kg Light Welterweight. Going up against Scotland’s Reese Lynch, the contest was stopped by the referee during the first round and Lynch declared the winner.
Later in the evening welterweight Toaua Bangkee, representing Kiribati entered the high for the first of three, 3 minute rounds. Commentators talked about the importance of the Commonwealth Games giving the opportunity for aspiring talent to perform on a world stage. The judges gave Toaua’s Mauritian opponent the edge in the first round, he fought back strongly in round two to even things out ], narrowly missing out on the win through a split decision.
Colan Caleb from Narua took on Nambia’s Jonas Junias in the Men’s over 60kg - 63.5kg Light Welterweight category and the contest was stopped during round one, with the tie awarded to the boxer from Nambia.
Niue’s Commonwealth campaign started at the Lawn Bowls in Victoria Park. In the Women’s singles, Olivia Buckingham had a challenging start to the competition as she was beaten by Siti Zalina Ahmad from Malaysia 21-7 followed by a tight contest, where Olivia was edged out 21-19 by Shermeen Lim from Singapore.
The Men’s Triples faced the same fate as the team of Leslie Lagatule, Norman Mitimeti and Kolonisi Polima lost their opening matches 29-7 to Australia and 26-9 to Jersey. The Women’s Four lost their opening match 24 -7 to South Africa, before taking on New Zealand and despite their best efforts losing 29-3.
Over in the Boxing, Niue athlete De Niro Pao suffered a second round stoppage in the Men’s Over 60kg-63.5kg.
Having won bronze in Lawnsbowls Men’s Triples back at the 2018 Gold Coast Games, there is hope that team Norfolk Island could win a medal in Birmingham.
In the Women’s singles Shae Wilson secured a 21-16 win against Fiji’s Litia Tikoisuva before rounding of her day with a 21-13 win against Nooroa Mataio from the Cook Islands.
The Men’s Triple team led by Trevor Gow, unfortunately lost their opening match 24-10 to Northern Ireland, before suffering another loss to Fiji.
John Christian and Tim Sheridan beat the pair from Northern Ireland 20-15 in their opening Men’s pairs contest.
The Women’s Fours of Ellie Dixon, Petal Jones, Essie Sanchez and Carmen Anderson beat Malaysia 21-12, before ending day 1 with another win, this time a 16-12 win over Malta.
For Ellie Dixon this is her first Commonwealth Games and her teammates are proving calming influences to any competition nerves, “It’s very exciting and even though it’s my first games, having three very experienced international players lead me through the game really helps. In our first game we started off a bit slow but, through our later plays we got ourselves through it and got a decent lead.”
Despite a strong start for the Women’s Four, Petal Jones isn’t looking too far ahead yet, “the greens are running really nice. The green is heavy here. Over the last few days we’ve been practising on them. They've been getting quicker and freer, they’re running nice. Just to qualify is what we have to aim for now, then we’ll see what happens in the knockout rounds.”
23 year old Ryan Maskelyne made the first final of the Games for both Papua New Guinea and Oceania as he was 8th fastest overall in the Men’s 200m Breaststroke, with a qualifying time of 2:15:91. Coming into the competition Ryan said his prep “wasn’t amazing, as I’ve had to battle through some injury, so I was working a lot to get myself ready. It wasn’t quite a PB but my whole goal for this meet was to get Papua New Guinea’s flag back into the finals at the Commonwealth Games and I'm so happy I've done that.”
Drawn in lane 8 in the final Ryan finished with a time of 2:16:98. After the race Ryan said he didn’t go as fast as he would have liked to but hopes by reaching the final he can help inspire the next generation of young PNG swimmers, “I love going back home. I'm based in Brisbane, so every chance I get to go back home and swim with all the boys and see everyone that's coming up and get to be amongst them and there's no crowds or anything, it's very different to, say, a competition that I'd normally do in Australia. I really enjoy going back and encouraging everyone else. And, yeah, it really is special. And hopefully, just like Ryan Pini did for me, hopefully I've done that for.”
In the boxing PNG saw more success as the countries flag bearer John Ume took on Malawi’s Elias Bonzo in the Men’s Over 60kg-63.5kg light welterweight. With the match going to judges scores, John won 4-1 on points. When being announced as the winner the relief and jubilation on John’s face was clear to see. John said “First of all, I just want to acknowledge my cultures first and my teammates and everyone who came and supported me. And yeah, thank you so much for cheering up for me. So to me, taking the first fight in the first round, I was confident, but every boxer, when they step into the arena, they always get nervous at best, but when they go in the rounds, they get confident.”
At the University of Birmingham Hockey and Squash arena both Madako Suari and Feanor Siaguru were competing in the round of 64 in the Men’s Singles Squash competition. Madako lost three games to nil against Mohammad Syafiq Kamal, whilst Feanor lost his match against his opponent from New Zealand.
It was a busy day in the pool for team Samoa, especially Kokoro Frost, who swam in three events in the morning session. The first event in Kokoro’s schedule was the Men’s 50m Butterfly heats, “in my first race I did a new personal best so I’m pretty happy with that result. I really wanted to get my time in the 25 seconds mark, but hey, a 26 flat is good, so I’m really happy.” In Kokoro’s second race, the 100m backstroke, he finished with a time of 1:05:05.
Kokoro’s final race of the day saw himself, Brandon Schuster, Olivia Borg and Lushavel Stickland set a first for Samoa, as they took part in the 4 x 100m Mixed Freestyle Relay.
Finishing 7th with a time of 3:52:67 the team were thrilled setting a new record, Lushavel said, “we smashed our goal time that we set by 7 seconds, it was an amazing race.”
It’s all about team spirit with this young group of Samoan swimmers, Brandon said the team “came with their Samoan energy and decided to leave it all in the pool today, to finish the day strong as a team.”
Brandon says “There is definitely something different about having three other teammates up on the blocks with you. When you're by yourself, it's a little mental game, but when you have three other partners out there, teammates, it's fun, it's exciting, and you just want to swim fast and it just makes it a whole lot easier to do that.”
It wasn’t just the pool where team Samoa had a positive set of results, over at the Coventry Arena, the team took on home nation England in their Rugby 7s pool and came away with an incredible 34-0 win, putting a marker down to the rest of the competition. The team then missed out on a memorable win over New Zealand in a nail biting match that finished 19-17 to the All Blacks.
Solomon Islands were in action in the pool today with Edgar Richardson Iro competing in the Men’s 50m Butterfly. Edgar finished 4th with a time of 29.50.
He said “this is my first time in the Commonwealth Games and it feels so good to be here. I want to say thank you to everyone supporting me.”
Team Solomon Islands had two athletes qualify for the Triathlon competition. The sprint distance race saw Andriana Tukuvia finish 31st in the women’s race and Timson Jude Irowane crossed the finish in 44th in the men’s race.
Off the back of a strong World Championships where she secured two personal best, Charissa Panuve had two events in the first session of the swimming programme. First up the 200m Freestyle where she finished 5th in her heat with a time of 2:26:19.
On the race Charissa said “I had a pretty good warm up this morning and, well, a lot of support coming in from family and prayers coming from all over the world, so it's been great. It definitely gave me that extra push that I needed in the last 50m.”
Next up for the 27 year old Tongan was the 100m Butterfly, where Charissa touched the wall in fifth place with a time of 1:17:96. Charissa said “to be honest I didn’t think it was great, but I guess being here on such a big stage you do see the pressure come out and it’s just about how you handle it and move onto the next one.”
In the Rugby 7s Tonga’s men opened their tournament with a 41-0 loss to Scotland, before an evening match against South Africa saw them lose 36-5.
Tomorrow Tuvalu’s Beach Volleyballers kick off the teams Games as Saaga Malosa and Ampex Isaac face host nation England in what is to be sure an enticing contest.
At the NEC in Birmingham team Vanuatu started their Commonwealth Games at Table Tennis. The Women’s team of Stephanie Qwea, Roanna Able and Tracey Mawa faced both Wales and Canada in their group losing both sets of matches 3-0.
Looking back Stephanie says after today’s game there are areas the team will go away and focus on, “with all the pressures that we've experienced this morning, and for our recent games, I think when we go back home more training is needed, more competition needed and national competitions to get our mental state prepared for the next Commonwealth Games. Because it's quite a different environment for us, like we've never had the chance to go out to play very big events, but I think we need more of these kinds of games in our country.”
And Tracey Mawa wanted to send a special message to everyone who has been cheering them on from. “to our Friends and family, thank you for your support and for praying for us, it’s really good to know they are on our side all the time, whether we win or lose.”
As well as more swimming, boxing, lawn bowls and rugby 7s, tomorrow sees the introduction of weightlifting and beach volleyball to the Games. Come back tomorrow to find out about our incredible Oceania athletes that continue to excel in all the sports they compete in.
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