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By Shan Seman

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, July 7) – With only two and a half weeks until the opening of the 2005 Palau South Pacific Mini Games, the Northern Marianas delegation and other island nations expected to compete are busy putting on the final touches in their preparation for the quadrennial event.

One island nation not in the thick of preparations, however, is Tahiti.

Known as a powerhouse in almost all events in the Games, French Polynesia reportedly pulled out of the competition due to the high cost of airfare from the country to Palau and back.

The pullout was recently confirmed by Mini Games executive director Susan Ngirausui, who also added that aside from Tahiti, Tokelau would also not be sending a contingent to the Mini Games.

Northern Marianas Amateur Sports Association president Mike White expressed his disappointment on the pull out, citing that it affects the level of competition.

"I can't feel good when any country says it can't participate in the Games," White said. "From the CNMI's standpoint, this will probably improve our chances at medals in several sports. However, we have to remember that, while medals are the measure of our success against other countries, and medals are what we strive for, a medal means more when we win it against the best competition. That's part of sportsmanship, which to me is more important than medals.

"I'm personally disappointed because Tahiti is always strong in every sport, and because the principal reason they couldn't come-the high cost of the trip-is the same reason that often prevents us from competing, or limits us when we do," he added.

Expressing similar thoughts was Saipan Swim Club coach Michael Stewart, who explained that Tahiti's absence lessens the challenge.

"To be honest, I was a bit disappointed that Tahiti was not coming to this year's Mini Games," he said. "I have always believed that in order to become as good as you can, you must rise and surpass the level of competition put before you. If not having Tahiti lessens the competition, then that lessen the challenge."

Stewart, however, stressed that the NMI swim team is ready to deal with the challenges facing them at the Mini Games.

"However, we deal with what we are up against," he said. "We are preparing to swim at our best, and we will just have to see how these young kids stack up."

The news of the pullout also came as a big surprise to Marianas Amateur Table Tennis Association president Steve Lim, who like White, said Tahiti's absence opens up possibilities for the NMI table tennis team.

"This is a bit of a shocker to me," he said, adding that Tahiti ranks among the top teams in the sport along with Fiji and New Caledonia. "Tahiti, in my opinion, is one of the better-organized and funded South Pacific competitors."

In the 2001 Norfolk Island South Pacific Mini Games, Tahiti finished second with 22 gold medals, and had a total medal haul of 45-third best among 20 countries.

The Palau Mini Games opens on July 25 and concludes on Aug. 4.

July 7, 2005

Saipan Tribune http://www.saipantribune.com

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