As the curtain falls after the last local international rugby test match of 2017 yesterday, the ANZ Stadium in Suva will again be the centre of activity as from Wednesday.
It has been 27 years since the Oceania Athletics Championships returned to where it all started in 1990.
Apart from the more than 600 athletes and officials, the event has been given a high profile status with the presence of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) president Lord Sebastian Coe and Dame Valerie Kasanita Adams, four-time world champion, three-time World Indoor champion, two-time Olympic and three-time Commonwealth Games shot put champion.
Oceania Athletics, Shop N Save Athletics Fiji and the country could not have asked for a more perfect icing to lift the event with the presence of the renowned sporting personalities.
Since 1990, Oceania Athletics has changed and evolved considerably with the additional competition like Grand Prix Series, Oceania Cup and Regional Championships. On occasions there were separate meets for the Under-18 and U20 but now they have been incorporated in the main championship with the inclusion of selected events for Athletes With Disability (AWD).
As the host country, Fiji has the record number of athletes with 179, American Samoa (7), Australia (140), Cook Islands (7), Federated States of Micronesia (6), Guam (12), Kiribati (6), Marshall Islands (6), New Caledonia (18), Norfolk Island (2), Northern Marianas (7), Nauru (16), New Zealand (52), Palau (3), Papua New Guinea (36), Polynésie de Française (8), Regional Australia (17), Samoa (31), Solomon Islands (16), Tonga (17), Tuvalu (5), Vanuatu (12) and Wallis & Futuna (11).
In the senior division, the winner of the title will have automatic qualification for participation in the IAAF World Championships in London on August 13-14, 2017.
The automatic qualification provision has raised the status of the Oceania Athletics Championships.
Sprint queen lead PNG
Toea Wisil will lead another strong Papua New Guinea athletics contingent.
The region’s leading female sprinter and multiple Pacific Games gold medalist was in Townsville last weekend where she clocked an impressive 11.36 seconds for the 100m.
Wisil currently holds the Oceania women’s 100m record with a time of 11.29seconds which she set at last year’s championship in Suva.
Apart from the Australian athletes, our female sprinters like Sisilia Seavula, Makereta Naulu, Younis Bese, Elenoa Sailosi and Laisani Moceisawana should provide Wisil good competition.
Former US representative sprinter Jeremy Dodson, who is competing for Samoa, will start as the clear favourite for the 100m and 200m with Pacific Games gold medallist Banuve Tabacaucoro having left athletics for rugby union.
Australia is expected to pose the biggest threat to the PNG elite athletes.
Fijians should heed the call by Lord Coe who said;
“Tickets are available for $2 and $5 and I must say that is extremely a good value looking…