SOUTH PACIFIC GAMES OPENING CEREMONY FULL OF POMP AND COLOR

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HAGÅTÑA, Guam (May 31, 1999 - PACNEWS)---Color and pageantry of the opening ceremony of the 11th South Pacific Games featured the national anthem of the host country, the Guam hymn, immediately followed by Team Tahiti leading the parade of athletes.

Tickets the opening ceremonies, which SPG observers said was smaller than previous Game sites, were sold out for the 3,000 spectators. n addition to athletes, officials and VIPs, about 10,000 people witnessed the opening ceremony on Saturday May 29.

National team contingents ranged from hosts Guam and Fiji with over 200 athletes, to teams of ten or less from Kiribati and the Norfolk Islands. Delegations from Samoa and Wallis and Futuna distinguished themselves and delighted the crowd by dancing in front of the main dais. Wallis and Futuna also presented traditional artifacts as gifts to Guam’s Governor, Carl Gutierrez, before he declared the Games open.

Marie Benito, a Guam Olympic marathon runner and medal winner of the last two SPG, took the Games oath on behalf of all athletes.

Amidst the fireworks and cultural performances of the local Chamorro people welcoming their island kin with songs especially written for the 11th SPG, representatives of Guam-based U.S. military armed with rifles and scopes behind the VIP dais, was a grim reminder of the potential danger anticipated by organizers on the American territory.

Meanwhile, the 68-strong Tongan contingent is looking to improve their performance over their 1995 performance of 6 Gold medals in Tahiti. Tonga will compete in seven sports; athletics, golf, weight lifting, tennis, table tennis, judo and volleyball.

Tongan team official, Ahongalu Fusimalohi, expects athletics to bring in the biggest number of gold medals for the Kingdom and made special reference to female sprinter Suilolo Liku, who won three gold medals at the Pago Pago Mini Games in 1997.

Fusimalohi said with the non-appearance of Fiji’s top hurdler and 1995 SPG gold medallist, Rachel Rogers, Liku should have little problem winning the gold medal in Guam. He also said Liku had a good chance of winning the 100-metre final. He also expects the Judo team to do well after their fine performance at the tri-nation championship between Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, where they picked up four gold medals.

On Weightlifting Fusimalohi said the Kingdom had a good chance of picking up a medal with Tevita Kofengalo and Viliame Tapa’atoutai. T evita won a bronze medal at the recent Oceania championships, while Viliame represented Tonga at the Atlanta Olympics.

NO MEDAL PRESENTATION ON FIRST DAY OF COMPETETION IN SPG

HAGÅTÑA (Pacnews) -- Unlike previous South Pacific Games there will be no medal presentation on the opening day (May 31) of the 11th Games despite competition in ten disciplines on the first day.

There will competition on the opening day in baseball, basketball, boxing, kayaking, netball, softball, tennis, indoor and outdoor volleyball, and wrestling.

The three sports making their debut at the 1999 SPG are wrestling, beach-volleyball and baseball.

Tahiti, hosts and winner of the most medals at the last Games, has come to Guam with one thought in mind - to retain all the gold medals won in 1995.

Monday (May 31) sees the Tahitian men’s and ladies basketball teams begin the defence of their basketball gold medals. They expect a strong challenge from American Samoa and hosts Guam.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) which won the highest number of gold medals in boxing in the 1995 SPG, are looking to better their five medal gold tally. Tahiti came in second place with three gold medals.

PNG will be the only threat to Fiji in the netball competition. The competition for gold will most likely be a repeat of the last final between Fiji and PNG.

Softball has also been included after a lapse of eight years. PNG defeated Guam in the final innings to clinch the gold medal at the 1991 SPG. Hosts Guam is expected to come-up against PNG in the 1999 final.

Previous SPG competitions indicate New Caledonia should dominate the tennis competition. It scooped 6 of the 7 gold medals on offer at the 1995 games in Tahiti.

Beach volleyball, which makes its debut in the 1999 games, is expected to draw a large crowd with French and American territories dominating play.

Over 220 gold medals will presented over 14 days of competition and the first medals are expected to come from the swimming pool on Thursday (June 3) afternoon…..PNS

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