The Honiara City Council (HCC) Arena saw its first action on Friday 17 November ahead of the start of the Sol2023 Pacific Games table tennis competition next week, with the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) hosting its Oceania Paralympic Championships qualifying tournament for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.
This three-day qualifying event holds immense significance for athletes across the region vying for a spot at Paris 2024.
The opening day saw an array of intense matches featuring seasoned athletes and rising talents, including 13-year-old Luke Siata (class 5) from Solomon Islands, who made a spirited debut in this major tournament. When asked about playing alongside experienced players, Luke, preferring to let his game speak, simply said: “I’m happy and excited”.
Despite Luke’s loss in his inaugural match against Fiji’s Iakoba Taubakoa, a silver medallist at previous Oceania Para Championships in Suva (Fiji) and Darwin (Australia), his performance captured the audience’s admiration.
Solomon Islands Table Tennis Team Manager Anna Prem reflected on the profound fulfillment of mentoring Para athletes over the past year. She said: “Giving Luke and our other Para table tennis contingent the exposure to such high-stakes competitions will undoubtedly build their confidence for future events.”
With seven Para table tennis athletes in the tournament, Anna added that this journey has been both challenging and immensely rewarding for the entire Solomon Islands team.
Four years have passed since the last Oceania Paralympic Championships tournament held in Darwin in May 2019. In the women’s singles, defending champions Daniela Di Toro (class 4) and Melissa Tapper (class 10) from Australia commenced their campaigns impressively. Di Toro secured a commendable victory against Fiji’s Akanisi Latu (3-0), while Tapper also triumphed over Laniana Ere Serekalou from Fiji (3-0) in their initial matches.
Tapper said: “I’m grateful for the challenging game and for the preparations, especially adapting to the Solomon Islands climate during my training at the Victorian Institute of Sport”. She acknowledged the rigorous tournaments leading up to this event, underscoring the significance of her preparation.
In the men’s singles, Australian favourite Ma Lin (class 9), a gold medallist at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, kicked off with two commanding victories against PNG’s Henao Roy (3-0) and Alain Barbu from New Caledonia (3-0).
Para table tennis athletes are grouped into 11 classes according to the impact of their impairment on their performance: wheelchair (classes 1-5); standing (classes 6-10) and intellectual impairment (class 11). Within the wheelchair and standing classes, the lower the number, the greater the impact the impairment has on an athlete’s ability to compete.
By Elron Dokese and Aaron Ballekom, Pacific Games News Service