The final lap of swimming at the Sol2023 Pacific Games on Friday night witnessed two more Pacific Games record, the last eight finals and 24 medals won at Honiara’s Aquatic.
Lara Grangeon-De-Villele (New Caledonia) asserted her dominance once again, picking up the first gold of the night with a win in the women’s 100m backstroke, clocking 1 minute and 5.57 seconds. Her fellow countrywoman and teammate Malou Douillard (1:07.39) finished second and Fiji’s Anahira McCutcheon (1:08.62) finished third.
In the second final of the night, Keha Debordes from Tahiti swam a time of 57.53 seconds to claim gold in the men’s 100m backstroke. New Caldeonia’s Ethan Dumesnil (58.17) and Chrissander Cerda (58.48) finished in second and third place respectively.
Grangeon-De-Villele had no intention of slowing down her gold medal streak as she dominated the women’s 400m individual medley with more than a 10 second lead ahead of the silver medallist, with a winning time of 5:01.34. Maiana Flament (5:12.04) came in second and Deotille Videau (5:16.19) finished third.
In the men’s 400m individual medley, it was a challenge between Tahiti’s Nael Roux and Tasi Limtiaco from Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The lead in the pool switched between Roux and Limtiaco until Roux regained it in the final freestyle lap and swam to gold with a time of 4 minutes and 41.15 seconds making Limtiaco (4:44.99) a silver medallist for the first time at Sol2023 (where he has claimed three golds). New Caledonia’s Baptiste Savignac (4:50.73) finished with the bronze.
Roux, with his second gold of the Games, said: “I am very happy because this is the success of my work and it’s also my success so here I am still proud to represent the colours of Tahiti”.
Limtiaco said: “I’m not disappointed. I’m still really happy with it. I am strictly a sprinter, and I kind of did that one for fun and it was everything I wanted it to be. It was fun and it was a great race. Nael is a great competitor. I thought I had him until the last freestyle, but you know what, I’ll settle for silver because I’m glad I went out there and had fun.”
It was gold for Grangeon-De-Villele again in the women’s 200m freestyle with a time of 2 minutes and 8.05 seconds. Standing next to Grangeon-De-Villele’s right again on the podium for silver was Flament (2:09.90), and Samoa’s Olivia Borg (2:11.25) settled for bronze in this event.
The Pacific Games News Service caught up with Olivia Borg for the final time in Honiara and she said: “It has been a really exciting week but it has been tough as well, being away from my family. But to do this on behalf of everyone, my culture, my country, I couldn’t be any prouder so I’m really happy with how I went today.”
In the men’s 200m freestyle, the race was between Cook Islands’ Wesley Roberts and the clock as Roberts chased down his second Pacific Games record at Sol2023. In this race against time, Roberts was the winner breaking Ryan Pini’s (1:50.27) 2007 record with a time of 1:49.78 and scooping his third and final gold medal at this Games. This is Roberts’ second Pacific Games record at Sol2023; the first he set on Thursday night in the men’s 100m freestyle. John William Dabin (1:51.19) and Nathan Hudan (1:53.84) from New Caledonia were the silver and bronze medallists respectively.
Roberts with his name now in the Pacific Games history books told the Pacific Games News Service: “It’s really special. Anytime I get to pull on the Cook Islands cap it’s always amazing, so then to not only have my name in there, but the Cook Islands name is amazing.”
“Someone mentioned it (the record) to me this morning, and I was like, ‘I think I can get it’, so it was nice to actually go out there and do it.”
Closing off the final night of swimming was the 4x100m medley relay where New Caledonia dominated both the men’s and women’s races. In the men’s relay, New Caledonia swam 3:50.80 for gold while Tahiti swam 3:58.10 for silver and Northern Mariana Islands made the podium for bronze with a time of 3:59.97.
The Pacific Games News Service spoke with the Northern Mariana Islands relay team and they said:
Isaiah Aleksenko: “We really wanted to be on the podium on the final night. Even though we are so close to second we still got bronze so we’re really happy.”
Kouki Watanabe: “I’m very happy for this medal because it’s the first medal I’ve got ever since I came to this Games. The happiest thing that happened this week is this medal. I’m very happy and I really love this medal!”
Kean Pajarillaga: “Receiving a medal feels good. I’m very happy that we ended on a good note in the last event winning a medal. The most enjoyable thing I’ve experienced this week is making new friends and competing again in a long course pool, because it’s hard for us to compete where we live.”
Juhn Tenorio: “It has been a tough competition for me. I wasn’t hitting my PBs (personal bests) and I wasn’t able to get the results I wanted but the last event, the boys counted on me and I trusted the boys so I’m happy that we got this result as a memory. The happiest thing that happened to me is that we got two medals (bronze) in the relay but this one is by far the most happiness that’s happened to me this week.”
In the women’s 4x100m medley relay, New Caledonia brought the heat, setting the second Pacific Games record of the night by breaking their own record of 4:23.64 set at Port Moresby 2015. The new record is now 4:23.14, which secured them gold. Fiji (4:32.51) finished in second place and Tahiti (4:50.78) finished third.
Grangeon-De-Villele was part of the team that set the record in 2015 and was also part of the team that re-set it here. Although she has 11 gold medals to choose from, she told the Pacific Games News Service that her relay medals are her favourite.
“The two medals won from our relays are my favourite, because it is our hard work as a team that we share together and that’s why it is very important to me.”
Grangeon-De-Villele is the most accomplished swimmer at Sol2023 with 11 gold medals to her name and new Pacific Games records in the 200m backstroke and 4x100m medley relay.
She said: “I am so happy. It is important that New Caledonia must have many medals. I am very happy to compete individually and with the New Caledonia team as well, because all the performances were very good.
“It’s really a blessing to have my name recorded in the history books after having swam in many events and a lot of good performances where we New Caledonians often have swimming records. It’s important that we uplift our country.”
Having inspired many of the young girls who competed in swimming at Sol2023 this week, Grangeon-De-Villele’s advice for them is to dare to dream.
“I would like to say to them to believe in yourself, to believe in your dreams and we must not limit ourselves. We must dare to dream.”
These results reflect the success of the teams that made it onto the podium, however experiences gained and friendships made were aplenty across the five days of swimming at Sol2023. This Games provided the opportunity for many Pacific swimmers from smaller nations to swim in an Olympic size pool for the first time, compete in their first international meet and major sporting event, and compete against some of the best swimmers in the region. The success of simply competing at Sol2023 will be felt by many of the swimmers in the years to come.
At the conclusion of swimming at Sol2023 the medal count for swimming sees New Caledonia with 53 (21 gold, 19 silver, 13 bronze), Tahiti 25 (four gold, eight silver and 13 bronze), Fiji 14 (two gold, seven silver and five bronze), Samoa 10 (four gold and three silver and three bronze), Cook Islands seven (four gold, two silvers and one bronze), Federated States of Micronesia (three gold and one silver) and Northern Mariana Islands (one gold and three bronze) with four medals each, American Samoa two (one silver and one bronze) and Papua New Guinea with one bronze.
By Melissa Velvel Fare and Roselyn Toliulu, Pacific Games News Service