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Games to unearth new stars - Mar 19, 2007

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Coke Games co-ordinator Vuli Waqa reckons this year's Coke Games will be the most competitive.

"Simply because we're looking at the bulk of athletes to represent Fiji at the SPG in Samoa to come out of the Coke Games, Waqa said yesterday.

The Fiji Secondary School School Athletics Association national finals will be held over April 27-28 at the Post Fiji Stadium but the eliminations begin next week with the Suva Zone One and Two meets next Thursday and Friday.

Waqa said they'd be looking at unearthing another new star this year following the revelation of Suva Grammar's Niko Verekatua last year.

Verekauta is based in New Zealand. He is on Olympic Solidarity Scholarship at the Oceania High Performance Training Centre with high jumper Rajend Prasad. Verekauta, 21, has a personal best of 46.28 seconds in the 400m. He ran 46.77 at the World Junior Championships in Beijing last year where he finished in fourth place in one of the semi-finals.

More overseas stints

Team Fiji is looking at another "five or six athletes to move across to Brisbane to train with Fijian track queen Makelesi Bulikiobo, under the guidance of coach Lloyd Way.

Last weekend at the Australian Championships in Brisbane, Bulikiobo ran best times in nearly every start, including a fourth in the final of the 200m and fourth in the final of the 400m.

Way said her best breakthrough was 53.85s in the 400m while in the 200m she ran 23.95s which is the first time this season she has broken 24s, while in the final she ran 23.65s to come fifth.

"That was a big breakthrough, she ran in lane two in the final, Way told Radio Australia.

Distance runner Isireli Naikelekelevesi joins the Brisbane-based Pacific squad in two weeks.

Way said the islanders thrived on hard work.

"They've really made a mark, as far as athletics in Australia at the weekend, I think a few people where very surprised, he said.

Way was also impressed by Papua New Guinea's female runner Mae Koime, who broke through with an Olympic B qualifying time in Brisbane.

Way said Koime's enormous personal best of 11.37s. (down from her previous personal best 11.71s) gave her the silver medal and boosted her regional ranking from eighth to second.

Koime went on to win her second silver of the meet in the 200m, clocking 23.38s behind triple New Zealand sprint champion, Monique Williams (23.28s.).

Cash input

Getting more athletes to train in Brisbane will come down to the financial aspect of Team Fiji's preparations.

A boost though for those vying for the trip to Samoa is the financial backing from the Fosters Group of companies.

The company has given $20,000 to FASANOC to cater for the levy of track and field athletes.

As it stands, there will be a levy of $900 per athlete for the trip and athletes can be grateful for the help from the brewery firm.

Quality over depth

This year's athletics squad won't lack quality but will be short in depth.

The financial demand is the contributing factor. The team could be forced to only take A-grade qualifiers, with B and B and C grade qualifiers, mainly silver and bronze hopefuls to be left out.

Athletics won 17 gold, 14 silvers and 15 bronze to top its section at the 2003 Games, ahead of New Caledonia (11, 7, 5).

The target this time is 20. Overall Team Fiji won 65 gold, 59 silver and 53 bronze medals in Suva and was placed second behind New Caledonia. This year Team Fiji is aiming for 75 gold medals.

The SPG will be held from August 25-September 8 with Fiji participating in the following sports, 31 in all: Archery, athletics, baseball, basketball, beach volleyball, bodybuilding, bowls, boxing, cricket, football, golf, hockey, judo, netball, powerlifting, outrigger canoeing, rugby league, rugby union, shooting, sailing, squash, surfing  

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