Fiji own the podium in fantastic swimming finale

Fiji signed off in style on the final night of swimming at the Samoa 2019 XVI Pacific Games, reaching the podium in eight out of 10 events on Saturday evening at Faleata Aquatics Centre.

They kicked off the night with a dominant performance in the 100m breaststroke. Taichi Vakasama (FIJ) swam his way to a new Games record in the opening race of the evening, finishing the men’s 100m in a time of 1 minute, 2.84 seconds.

“I really feel great breaking the record,” Vakasama told the Pacific Games News Service. “For four years, I have been trying to break the record - that was my aim and I broke it. I am just full of happiness right now.”

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Vakasama also revealed that he swam with a fever. “I felt really feverish, but it actually worked because my mind was focused on the fever more than the nervousness about the race. What I tried to do is just focus on the race - just look at the wall and forget about all the negativities. I felt the tightness from the fever, but I don’t know, it was just guts. Just gutsy.”    

Fellow Fijian, Epeli Rabua, was close behind with a silver medal finish and Ryan Maskelyne (PNG) took his second individual medal of the week with a bronze. It was a proud moment for Fiji when they opened the night with two athletes on the podium.

The women’s 100m breaststroke was always going to be an event to watch based on performances throughout the week. Adeline Williams (NCL), the previous Pacific Games record holder who has been competing all week with a broken foot, was looking to defend her gold medal from the Port Moresby 2015 XV Pacific Games. But Fiji continued their strong performance as Moana Wind (FIJ) powered her way to their second gold medal of the evening.

Poerani Bertrand (TAH) won silver for Tahiti’s first medal of the evening and Tilali Scanlan of American Samoa claimed the bronze and American Samoa’s second medal of the week, both won by her.

Rahiti De Vos (TAH) cruised to a new Pacific Games record in the men’s 400m freestyle with a time of 3:56.35, finishing nearly four seconds faster than second-placed Wesley Roberts (COK). Roberts, who earlier in the week had become the first ever Cook Islands swimmer to win a Pacific Games medal, picked up his third of the Games with silver. Samoa’s Brandon Schuster hit the touchpad third to a cheering crowd as he claimed bronze and the sixteenth swimming medal for Samoa at these Games.

Maiana Flament (NCL) looked comfortable in her gold medal performance in the women’s 400m freestyle with a time of 4:27.96, nearly nine seconds faster than Matelita Buadromo (FIJI), who claimed silver. In an incredible show of power and endurance, 33-year-old Charlotte Robin (NCL), who repeated her Port Moresby 2015 gold medal winning performance in open water swimming earlier in the Games, claimed bronze, making her the oldest competitor to reach the podium this year in swimming.

Flament said: “I’m really satisfied because I was up against Buadromo and so it wasn’t going to be easy. I was under pressure during the race but I gave my best, and I was extremely happy with that result.” The 17-year-old, who is in her final year at school, was delighted to win four gold, two silver and two bronze medals at Samoa 2019.

Records continued to tumble as Thibaut Mary (NCL) claimed a new Games record in the men’s 200m butterfly with a time of 2:02.29. Guillame Vermorel (TAH) finished four seconds later to collect silver and 17-year-old Temafa Yalimaiwai (FIJI) won bronze, to continue Fiji’s medal joy.

The women’s 200m butterfly was a tight contest between New Caledonia’s Julie Decaix, teammate Flament, and Fiji’s Rosemarie Rova. It came down to the final lap, but it was Decaix who touched the wall first for gold. Flament, was less than a second behind to claim silver, and Rova won bronze.

It took Julien Pierre Goyetche (NCL) just 23.03 seconds to power his way to gold and a new Games record in the men’s 50m freestyle. Fellow New Caledonian, Janin Florent, was just a tenth of a second behind to claim silver while Teiki Dupont (TAH) won bronze. The difference between the gold and bronze medals was less than 2 tenths of a second.

The women’s 50m freestyle also went down to the wire as Emma Terebo (NCL) reached the wall just before Samoa’s Lushavel Stickland to win gold in the sprint, her third of the week. Yolani Blake (FIJ) won bronze.

The crowd was absolutely on fire for the mixed 200m medley relay, the final event of the swimming competition at the Samoa XVI Pacific Games.

The athletes exploded off the blocks as the cheers continued to reverberate around the venue. And, in a truly fitting fashion, the race concluded with yet another broken record as the New Caledonia relay team finished in 1:49.18. Fiji claimed silver in an incredible performance that took them to the podium for the eighth time during the session. Tahiti placed third.

The stadium gave a roaring ovation as the athletes left the pool for the final time at Samoa 2019. The swimmers embraced and congratulated each other on their performances. And, as they left the poolside, they looked up to acknowledge the crowd, who were still bellowing with excitement and appreciation for five days of extraordinary entertainment.