Papua New Guinea has named a strong 38-member athletics squad for the track and field events during the Pacific Mini Games in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands.
The team consists of 24 male and 14 female athletes who will head to Saipan in three groups from Port Moresby, Brisbane and Los Angeles.
Head coach and former track star Nelson Stone will travel to Saipan via Honolulu and Guam with 13 US-based athletes after competing in Los Angeles this weekend for a final lead-up competition.
There were 20 athletes that competed at the recently concluded Oceania Championships in Mackay, Queensland, who performed exceptionally well to set the stage for a blinder on the field and track in Saipan.
The highlights of Team PNG at the Championships included Debono Paraka’s national record of 53.33m in the men’s discus.
Siune Kagl had an outstanding 10,000m performance on the tracks and PNG is set for a strong showing in the men’s long-distance events, especially the 3000m steeplechase and 10,000m.
Dilu Goiye and Wilford Baia are expected to join Kagl in the 5,000m and 10,000m.
Four athletes had clocked times of under 10 minutes for the steeplechase in Port Moresby last weekend led by Aquila Turalom (9m40s), Israel Takap (9m44s), Baia (9m52s) and Abel Siune (9m59s).
Pacific sprint queen Toea Wisil is not in her best form of late after recording times well below her best, however the Olympian remains determined to do her best at the Games.
PNG also boasts men’s sprinters including Leonie Beu and Isila Apkup, who will be battling the reigning Pacific’s fastest man, Fijian Banuve Tabakaucoro.
Fiji has relied heavily on its star sprinter in the past few Pacific Games, but like Wisil, his recent times have been below his best, although he will be the man to beat in the blue ribbon event.
It will be interesting to witness Tabacaucoro racing against Leroy Kamau and other PNG sprinters in the 200m in what is expected to be a strong challenge.
PNG record holder Peniel Richard will start as favourite in the men’s triple jump.
PNG Athletics Federation president Tony Green expressed his confidence that the team would improve on its gold-medal haul from Vanuatu in 2017 and Samoa in 2019.
He said preparations had been extremely challenging for sports and thanked team managers Kylie Martins and Sharon Atuai for their hard work.
“Everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that all of the team members meet the Coronavirus-related travel requirements and reach Saipan smoothly,” Green said.