Excitement and anticipation filled the Honiara City Council (HCC) Arena as the Sol2023 Pacific Games table tennis tournament began on Monday with the men’s and women’s teams competitions.
Powerhouse teams were eager to clinch pool game victories with Vanuatu, holding an impressive track record of five gold medals and a silver from the Samoa 2019 Pacific Games, determined to uphold their stellar reputation.
The day commenced with the women’s teams taking to the tables at 9am. Fiji showcased dominance against Solomon Islands (5-0), Tahiti secured victory over Palau (5-0), New Caledonia triumphed against Tonga (5-0), and Vanuatu received a win over Nauru (who forfeited) by default.
Despite her team’s defeat to New Caledonia, Barbara Pepa, from Tonga said: “Even though we fell short this morning, we’re still hopeful. I was happy with my performance today, and I’m focusing on improving my footwork for the upcoming matches. Playing in the Solomons is a different challenge, however we have prepared well in Tonga”.
Tonga is yet to win a medal in table tennis but their coach Simote Manumanu Pepa, who is Barbara’s father, expressed hope for making history by securing a medal at this year’s Games.
“We have several new players in the team, and our preparation has been rigorous. Our Para team secured five bronze medals in last week’s Oceania Para Championships, and we’re aiming for similar success in the Pacific Games.”
In the men’s teams event, Tahiti showcased dominance with a 5-0 victory over Kiribati. A fresh new Vanuatu team defeated Tonga (5-0). New Caledonia secured an impressive win against Solomon Islands (5-0), while Marshall Islands triumphed over Nauru (4-1).
Vanuatu veteran Rueben Vira, who last played in the Pacific Games in Guam in 1999, has come out of retirement to join the new-look Vanuatu side. “With our new team, our goal is to win against five countries,” he revealed.
Edwin Junior Lulu, a two-time Pacific Games representative, added: “Despite our wins today it was still challenging, and we’re determined to perform better. Our men’s team comprises new players and one returning from retirement. We’re here to gain experience, and we anticipate Tahiti to be our toughest competition in the pool.”
Vanuatu men’s side missed the presence of Yoshua Shing and Ham Lulu, gold medallists in Samoa, who are absent from the team due to work commitments.
The table tennis action will continue at HCC Arena from Tuesday 21 November to Saturday 25 November, starting at 9am. Entry is free, welcoming enthusiasts to witness the thrilling competition firsthand.
By Donaldson Saepioh and Aaron Ballekom, Pacific Games News Service