Anolyn Lulu and Priscilla Tommy, champions of Vanuatu’s women’s table tennis and gold medallists at the Samoa 2019 Pacific Games, made history once again by clinching gold at the Sol2023 Pacific Games on Saturday, this time delivering Vanuatu’s first gold of the Games through a decisive 3-0 victory against a promising Tahitian team, comprised of twin sisters, Keala and Kelly Tehahetua.
Reflecting on their historic win at HCC Arena, Lulu told the Pacific Games News Service: “We feel so proud. It has been really hard for us, and we’ve been fighting from day one of the competitions. We felt a bit low when we lost the gold in the teams’ competition earlier in the week, but we had to come back from that.
“Winning this gold is dedicated to our families and the whole of Vanuatu. It’s our first gold medal at the Sol2023 Pacific Games in Honiara and we’re proud we could deliver that for our country.”
Acknowledging the rising talent of their opponents, Lulu, remarked: “They are superstars, and I think this is the first time we have played against them. We will have to train really hard for the next Pacific Games because they will definitely be a team to look out for. I’m proud of them.”
Despite settling for silver, Tahiti’s coach Alizé Belrose commended his team’s performance, saying: “I’m just very proud of the girls. They did what they had to do and competed against a very strong team that has been playing together for a very long time. Today they may have lost, but they will only improve.”
Reflecting on her experience participating for the first time in a Pacific Games, Keala Tehahetua, expressed a mix of emotions: “Although I’m sad about the loss, I’m still proud to be taking home a medal”.
In the bronze playoffs for the same category, Vanuatu’s Tracey Mawa and Stephanie Qwea inched their way to a victory against Tahiti’s Takihei Manutahi and Heimoe Wong (3-2).
In the men’s doubles finals, New Caledonia’s Jeremy Dey and Jerome Morisseau claimed gold, defeating Samoa 2019 bronze medallists and favourites Ocean Belrose and Kenji Hotan from Tahiti (3-1).
Following their win, Dey, who was a coach at Samoa 2019, revealed: “I did not participate at the Pacific Games in 2019 due to an injury and so I was only coaching then. So, to come back from that and win the gold this time around is big pride for me.
“I feel very happy as we trained a lot, and so this is a relief. We were the underdogs, and we knew Tahiti was very strong as we’ve known the players for a long time. During the match, I was just telling my partner to keep fighting, don’t show emotions or that you’re disappointed, just keep fighting and let’s grab the points one by one and complete the match.”
In the bronze match for the same category, Tahiti’s Bydhir Carnet and Hugo Gendron took home the spoils after narrowly defeating Papua New Guinea’s Geoffrey Loi and Gasika Sepa (3-2).
In the women’s singles finals, Vanuatu’s Priscilla Tommy bagged her country’s second gold by securing an impressive 4-0 win against Tahiti’s Keala Tehahetua. In the bronze match, Tahiti’s Kelly Tehahetua defeated fellow countrywoman Heimoe Wong (4-3), ensuring the twins claimed both silver and bronze in the event.
In the men’s singles finals Tahiti’s Ocean Belrose defeated compatriot Hugo Gendron (4-1). Taking home the bronze was Tahiti’s Hotan, who secured the win over fellow countryman Carnet (4-1).
In the men’s Para table tennis classes 1-5, Tahiti’s Vincent Tehei took home gold, defeating New Zealand’s James Alexander Goulding with an impressive 3-0 victory. Solomon Islands’ Shadrack Timothy settled for bronze, beating teammate Jatutu Mylus Mamu (3-1). In the men’s Para table tennis singles classes 6-10, Tahiti’s Allgower Maruae bagged the gold after a narrow 3-2 win over Solomon Islands’ Rodney Satini. Papua New Guinea’s Haoda Agari claimed bronze with a 3-1 win over New Caledonia’s Alain Barbu (3-1).
Saturday marked the final day of Sol2023 table tennis, which has been filled with historic hit-outs and a remarkable display of inclusion of athletes of all abilities from across the Pacific – embodying the true spirit of the Games.
By Aaron Ballekom, Pacific Games News Service