By Mark Rabago

SUVA, Fiji (Saipan Tribune, July 1) - The swimmers of the Northern Marianas made up for a crushing loss by the tennis team in the first day of competition yesterday in the 2003 South Pacific Games.

Dean Palacios, his brother David, Seung Gin Lee, Tamiko Winkfield, Minerva Cabrera and Melissa Coleman are all swimming in the finals of their respective events after swashbuckling performances in the pool yesterday morning at the National Aquatic Centre at the Luacala Bay Sports City.

The women's 800m freestyle relay team composed of Nina Mosley, Cabrera, Coleman and Winkfield will also see action in the finals.

Dean Palacios qualified in both the finals of the 100m breaststroke and 200m freestyle events for men. He finished with the fifth fastest time in the qualifying round of the 100m backstroke with a 1:12.21 and checked in seventh overall in the 200m freestyle with a 2:05.60.

Lee, meanwhile, qualified for the final of the 50m backstroke and is an alternate in the 200m freestyle.

Joining Lee in the 50m backstroke final is David Palacios. Lee came up with a sixth best time in the qualifiers with a 30.66, while Palacios was at eighth with a 30.92. Lee's 2:08.08 in the 200m freestyle was ninth best.

Winkfield, for her part, barely made the finals of the 100m freestyle event for women, which was dominated by crowd darling and 1999 SPG gold medallist Caroline Pickering of host Fiji.

The Northern Marianas' flag bearer in the opening ceremonies finished eighth best with a 1:04.66 and she needs to cover a lot of ground to catch up with Pickering, who was way out in front of the pack with a 58.75, nearly eclipsing her own record of 58.52 established in the Guam SPG.

Cabrera and Coleman both made it to the finals of the 400m individual medley. Cabrera's 5:59.19 was seventh best in the qualifier, while Coleman's 5:59.17 was sixth best.

Swimming coach Bill Sakovich said that he was happy that many of his wards qualified for the finals.

"They all beat their previous best times and made it to the finals. I hope they could still muster enough energy on their tired bodies to bring home a medal for the CNMI," he said.

The New Caledonia women's 800m freestyle relay team, meanwhile, has pole position in the finals against teams from Fiji and Papua New Guinea. They are on pace to break their own SPG record set in 1999 as their seed time of 8:52.23 easily beats the 9:04.64 set by the latter.

Tennis, meanwhile, saw the CNMI fall out of the race in the team competition after the islands' No. 1 and No. 2 players Todd Montgomery and Jeff Race were beaten by a pair of Davis Cup veterans from the region's tennis powerhouse Samoa at the Victoria Parks tennis courts yesterday morning.

Montgomery came out on the losing end of his match against Juan Langton of Samoa. The former University of Kansas standout made a run for it in the first set but was turned back 3-6 before being battered with a 1-6 score in the second set.

"He just played very well. His service is awesome and it was not a question of what I didn't do but more of what he did," said Montgomery.

The loss allowed Samoa to advance to the next round, as Race was brushed aside in his earlier match against Leon Soonalole, 6-2, 6-2. The twin loses made the doubles game between CNMI and Samoa moot and academic.

"We tried to be competitive no doubt about it. But you must consider that Samoa is the second ranked team in the SPG. We had the bad luck of playing against them in a one-loss-your-out format and they beat us and now we're eliminated," said Race who also stands in as coach for the team.

Aside from Race and Montgomery, the CNMI tennis team is also made up of lady netter Kana Aikawa and Jung Mun Chung.

Race said by virtue of them being eliminated in team play, the next match for the CNMI is in the singles competition, which will not start until Thursday.

He said he would probably give the team an off today so they could watch the CNMI triathletes compete.

Tagaman and XTERRA Saipan veterans Dirk Sharer, Vanessa Ince, Peter and Kathryn Sinclair, Anneka Sakovich and Stephan Samoyloff will duke it out against the region's best in the Olympic distance 1,500-m swim, 40-km bike and 10-km run endurance race starting from the Pacific Harbor.

Results for the only other sport the CNMI participated yesterday, surfing, was still not available as of press time. Bill Owens and Laurent Wainer are representing the Northern Marianas in the surfing competition, which takes place in the remote island of Tavarua for five straight days beginning yesterday. Swimmers will also continue to see action today.

July 1, 2003

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