By Mark Rabago

SUVA, FIJI (Saipan Tribune, July 2) - The Northern Marianas got into the medal standings yesterday when the triathlon team delivered a bronze medal on the second day of competition at the 12th South Pacific Games.

The intrepid crew made up of Stephan Samoyloff, Dirk Sharer, Anneka Sakovich, Peter and Kathryn Sinclair and Vanessa Ince finished third behind traditional SPG powers New Caledonia and Tahiti in the endurance race that began from the Pacific Harbor beach, a 45-minute bus ride from the Laucala Bay Sports City.

Northern Marianas' triathlon team was able to take home the bronze after their two top men finishers Samoyloff and Sharer and top woman finisher Sakovich edged Cook Islands' best in the 1,500-meter swim, 40-km bike ride and 10-kilometer run triathlon.

Samoyloff, Sharer and Sakovich combined for a time of 7:18:19, which was only about two minutes ahead of the time submitted by eventual fourth placer Cook Islands.

Samoyloff surprised everyone with a strong performance in the swim split, as the physician from the Commonwealth Health Center swam toe to toe with the team's best swimmer, Sakovich. The two NMI triathletes emerged fourth and fifth overall from the swim leg of the race.

But while Sakovich struggled on the bike, Samoyloff only got stronger and was actually within striking distance of the leaders. He was fifth place behind three New Caledonians and a Tahitian at the midway point of the run.

Samoyloff would eventually finish sixth place in the men's competition won by New Caledonia's Olivier Bargibant. Bargibant's countrymen David Esposita and Thierry Lecourieux took the men's silver and bronze, respectively.

Sharer, meanwhile, made up for an average swim with a great effort in the bike and run portions of the race. He could have wound up seventh place among the men if not for a last-second burst of speed by yet another Tahitian, Frederic Durand, at the finish line.

A few minutes later, or some 15 minutes to be exact, Sakovich roared into the finish line with her face a picture of relief more than anything else. Earlier Serena Francis of Cook Islands crossed the finish line following three of her male teammates, which added suspense in the team competition.

It took the triathlon judges a good hour and a half after the end of the race to come up with the results, which upset NMI triathlon team coach Jean Sakovich.

Although, eventually ecstatic with the bronze medal her team won, Sakovich was in pins and needles and unable to eat lunch while awaiting the results of the team competition.

"This pays off for our months and even years of training and hard work. I'm so proud of the team and I could never be happier," she said.

Samoyloff and Sharer, meanwhile, agreed that is all but fitting that the NMI won a medal in the team competition.

Earlier, New Caledonia's women's triathlon team also came away with all the medals, as Benedicte Meunier took home the gold, Emmanuelle Lo got the silver and Isabelle Boyer-Moulin the bronze.

The NMI's tennis and beach volleyball teams, along with Chef de Mission Mike White and his wife Rose, were on hand to encourage and support the triathletes.

Netters Jeff Race, Todd Montgomery and Jung Mun Chung were relegated to cheer leaders after the tennis team bowed to second-ranked Samoa last Monday. Race and Montgomery, however, made up for their misfortunes in the singles by later whipping Samoa in doubles play 6-0, 7-6.

The beach volleyball team of Tyce Mister and Russ Quinn, meanwhile, said that they already have quite a number of practice matches under their belt and are eagerly awaiting the start of actual competition next week.

Quinn said the beach volleyball team has been grouped into a tougher bracket that includes powerhouses Wallis and Futuna, Fiji, Tahiti, Kiribati and New Caledonia.

The CNMI's swimmers under the baton of coach Bill Sakovich, meanwhile, continued their pursuit of the elusive medal in the pool competitions.

After being humbled by New Caledonia, Tahiti, Papua New Guinea and host Fiji in the finals the night before, the swimmers are back in the thick of the fight after qualifying once again in the finals set last night.

Dean Palacios and Seung Gin Lee finished second and third, respectively, in the qualifying heat of the men's 400m individual medley. Both swimmers shattered their previous bests and only trailed Oliver Saminadin of New Caledonia's qualifying time giving them a good chance of medalling in the event.

Tamiko Winkfield, for her part, came in seventh in the 200m freestyle and was also supposed to see action in the finals last night.

As of press time, the surfing pair of Bill Owens and Laurent Wainer has not seen action yet as the absence of ideal waves in Tavarua Island has postponed competition, according to officials.

The athletics team made up of Shane Ogumoro and coach Elias Rangamar were also scheduled to arrive yesterday and start in earnest training for competitions set to begin next week.

Golfers Jess Wabol, Nick Sablan, Eddie Peter and Joji Taguchi are also slated to begin their four rounds of golf this morning at the Fiji Golf Club.

All four golfers have struggled in their practice rounds and the unusually rough greens of the venue, they said, has contributed in them hitting in the high 70s and low 80s. Nevertheless, team captain Sablan vowed that the golf team would try to rise up to the challenge play their best these next few days.

Medal standings from Day 1 of competitions have New Caledonia leading with 4 gold, 6 silver and 3 bronze medals. Tahiti is running second with 3 gold, 1 silver and 4 bronze medals. Fiji is currently third with 2 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze medals, while Papua New Guinea with a gold, silver and bronze medals make up the list of countries that have so far medalled.

Updated team standings after the second day of competition shows New Caledonia remaining in front with 6 gold, 10 silver, and 6 bronze medals. Tahiti follows with 7 gold, 4 silver and 1 bronze medals, while host Fiji is in third place with 2 gold, 5 silver and 1 bronze medals. Papua New Guinea remains at fourth with a gold, silver, and bronze medal. Northern Marianas, Niue and Cook Islands barged into the medal standings after winning bronze medals each yesterday.

July 2, 2003

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