Vanuatu’s Ken Kahu is ranked in the top 10 in the world in Paralympic javelin, but when he moved to Australia for seasonal work, he was forced to modify his training.
The 24-year-old shares a similar story to that of many Vanuatu athletes – one of trying to balance working in Australia under a seasonal workers’ program and maintaining their training as elite athletes for the country.
On Friday he claimed a silver medal in the Sol2023 Pacific Games men’s javelin ambulant event at Honiara’s National Stadium, narrowly missing out on gold. His throw distance of 53.29 metres was a personal best and gave him a final placing percentage of 80.52 against his F44 classification.
In the ambulant category, Para athletes’ results are measured against their classification to determine their final placing percentage. A higher percentage closer to 100 indicates a better ranking and the highest ranked competitor at the end of the event is the winner.
Gold went to Soane Meissonnier of Wallis and Futuna, who threw 48.08m – a placing percentage of 84.58 per cent against his F20 classification.
Kahu told the Pacific Games News Service: “I aimed for gold but I got silver instead. I still feel really happy about my performance because I achieved my personal best throw”.
He also revealed that he had been forced to incorporate avocado-throwing into his training for the Pacific Games during a recent stint in Queensland.
“Before coming to the Games, I went to work in Bundaberg, Australia as a seasonal worker. I was picking avocados, and I used my work picking and throwing avocados as training.
“I also did some training in Australia before I headed back to Vanuatu, where I did most of my training and preparations for the Games. Now that I’ve got this silver medal, I’m going back to Vanuatu to train for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.”
In an historic moment for Para sport in Vanuatu, Kahu had qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games but was unable to travel to Japan from his island home due to Covid-19-related restrictions.
However, he is now looking forward to competing at Paris 2024 and is urging more people in his country to follow the trail he has blazed and take up sport.
“I want to encourage anyone living with a disability who is interested in sport to not be afraid of their disability. I want them to look at their abilities.
“For anyone in Vanuatu who is interested, especially on my island (Tanna), if you are interested in sport and you want to participate or try a sport, please come, I will help you. We will have a great time because it is always a great time in Para sport,” Kahu said.
The other medallists in the Sol2023 men’s javelin ambulant also reflected positively on their performances in Friday’s sweltering Honiara heat.
Pelenato Lakalaka, the coach for gold medallist Meissonnier, told the Pacific Games News Service: “He fought right to the end. It’s true that it was tough with his rivals and with his disability too, it’s a difficult fight with his competitors but with his efforts he did everything he could to win, so he won and that’s great. He’s already happy and it’s good for the country too, because we don’t have many medals”.
The bronze medallist was Felicien Siapo from New Caledonia who finished with a throw distance of 51.91m and a placing percentage of 78.43 against his F44 classification.
Siapo said that he hopes winning bronze here will get him closer to Paralympic qualification.
“This medal symbolises my participation at the Pacific Games and, going back to training, I hope to have a place at the Paralympics with this medal. That’s the goal. I’ve worked hard to get to the Paralympics. Above all, I’m going to work harder and be really, really motivated and determined.
“The future looks bright,” he concluded.
By Melissa Velvel Fare, Pacific Games News Service