Pini brought his gold medal tally up to five on Thursday at BSP Arena, setting a new Pacific Games record of 23.93 seconds in the men’s 50m butterfly final and swimming the final leg in the home team’s victory in the mixed 4x50m freestyle relay.
“It’s awesome. It’s equal now to what I got in the last Games in New Caledonia, but here there are still two days to go,” Pini said.
“I am very happy, especially since I will go into retirement after these Games.”
The New Caledonian trio of Adeline Williams (100m breaststroke), Emma Terebo (50m butterfly) and Lara Grangeon (800m freestyle) continued their dominance in women’s swimming, combining to take gold in all three women’s events on Thursday, and recording a pair of new Pacific Games records along the way.
Tonga’s Amini Fonua (200m breaststroke) and Guam’s Benjamin Schulte (200m individual medley) picked up the other gold medals available.
Pini opened the night’s action by beating his previous Games record in the 50m butterfly by 0.46 seconds.
Tahiti claimed the silver and bronze medals with Stephane Debaere finishing 0.76 seconds behind Pini and Hugo Lambert (25.27) touching in third for bronze.
“Tonight it was a bit complicated, I annoyed him (Pini) until the end, so I am really pleased with this medal knowing who the winner is,” Debaere said.
“My time is really good, 24.69 seconds, and butterfly is not my specialty.”
Pini bookended his night perfectly, making up a 3.64 deficit over the final 50 meters of the mixed 4x50m freestyle relay to send the crowd home happy.
“We are four days in, you really have to pack yourself in and go as fast as you can, I didn’t think too much about the others, I set my head down and gave my best,” Pini said after the race.
Team PNG – made up of Anna-Liza Mopio Jane, Samuel Mai Seghers, Savannah Tkatchenko and Pini – clocked a benchmark time of 1:40.02 in the inaugural Pacific Games appearance of the event.
Fiji finished second in 1:40.45 and New Caledonia swam into third in 1:40.57.
For the second straight night in a mixed relay event, Tahiti faded down the stretch to fall from first place after the first three legs, finishing all the way down in fourth.
Williams took gold in the women’s 100m breaststroke with a swift finish of 1:11.05.
She broke her previous Games record of 1:11.95 in the event, which she set in the preliminaries earlier on Thursday.
Williams’ victory was special not only because the New Caledonian claimed her third gold of the 2015 Pacific Games, but also because she was able to share it with some family members that she is rarely able to visit.
“I am really pleased to be here in PNG as my mother was born here and my uncles are here tonight,” Williams said. “It doesn’t happen that often that my family can watch me swimming. I haven’t had many occasions to come to PNG, so I am really pleased to be here.”
Pilar Shimizu (GUM) finished in second with a time of 1:16.05 and Savannah Tkatchenko took bronze for Papua New Guinea in a time of 1:16.96.
Fonua snatched gold in the men’s 200m breaststroke with a finish of 2:20.27, a result that surprised even himself.
“I don’t swim the 200m, I just entered the race for fun, because it was the last breaststroke race, and I thought, ‘Why not?,'” Fonua said. “I haven’t done that race in a few years. It still hurts as much as I remember it, which is why I don’t usually do it.”
Fonua finishes his Games with a perfect record of three gold medals from three events.
Ryan Maskelyne (PNG) took silver, coming 0.95 seconds after Fonua, with Benjamin Schulte (GUM) coming in third for bronze with a finish time of 2:22.29 seconds.
Maskelyne, who is 16 years old, beat his personal best by five seconds, and will be someone to look out for at the next Pacific Games in Tonga.
“I think it shows a really great potential for Pacific sports, and specifically swimming,” Fonua said of seeing so many young swimmers competing. “[Maskelyne] is 16, and he’s going much faster than I was when I was 16.”
“Here’s to hoping they keep at it with the sport, this is a tough sport to have longevity in. I really hope nothing but the best for them.”
Terebo made her way to gold in the women’s 50m butterfly, touching in 28:44 ahead of the chase from the Fijian pair of Caroline Puamau (28.61) and Matelita Buadromo (28.71).
Terebo has taken five titles so far in these Games.
“Honestly speaking the 50m butterfly race is not my specialty, I am not used to training for this type of swim,” Terebo said. “Today I won it with a stunning time, I couldn’t expect to achieve this, I am deeply happy; these Games have smiled on me since the beginning.”
Schulte moved two steps up the podium in the men’s 200m individual medley, taking gold in a time of 2:09.22.
New Caledonia’s Thibaut Mary (2:10.67) and Emmanuel Limozin (2:12.36) took the silver and bronze, respectively.
Grangeon beat her own Games record by more than 10 seconds on her way to winning the women’s 800m freestyle in a time of 8:52.99. Her previous record was 9:05.84.
After her victory, Grangeon – who has won seven gold medals so far in these Games – read a prepared statement to the crowd in tok pisin.
“Hellow you all, mi amamas lon kam lo Port Moresby, tenkyu tru lo olgeta lin kam an supotim swimming tenkyu tru,” said Lara, which translates to “Hello, I’m happy to come to Port Moresby, and thank you to everyone who are here to support swimming.”
Buadromo gave a tireless chase in her second event of the evening to win silver behind Grangeon in a time of 9:33.71. Charlotte Robin (NCL) won bronze in 9:38.80.
New Caledonia is leading the swimming medal tally with 13 gold medals, followed by PNG with five and Tahiti with four.
Swimming’s pool events will end on Saturday, to be followed by the men’s and women’s open water events on Sunday at Loloata.
Pini hopes to add gold medals in the men’s 50m freestyle and 100m backstroke events on Friday to add to what is already a very memorable Games performance.
“The 50 free, that’s going to be a fast one,” Pini said. “That’s one’s really anyone’s race, so I’ve just got to get out there and give it my best.”
“The 100 backstroke, that’s a hard one, that’s one of my main events as well, so I’m hoping to come out with a win there.”
By Willie Lovai, Tumbe Sam and Daniel Kerwin, Games News Service