In the evening’s opening race Ryan Pini (PNG) claimed gold in his first major competitive swim on home soil, winning the men’s 50m backstroke in 26.14 seconds.
Teiki Dupont (TAH) claimed silver while Julien-Pierre Goyetche (NCL) finished third.
Pini, who has come out of retirement aged 33 for one last Games, admitted he felt the weight of a nation’s expectation on his shoulders going into the event.
“The last two years [preparing for this] have probably been one of my toughest challenges,” he said.
“It has been a real struggle. I returned to PNG but we didn’t have a 50m pool until about a month ago. It has been a challenge but it has definitely been worthwhile so that my fans can come and see what I do best.”
“The Olympics and Commonwealth Games have been huge events in my life, but swimming at home is way up there.”
Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill presented Pini with his medal to rousing applause from the sell-out crowd.
The night’s largest medal haul went to New Caledonia, whose swimmers collected three golds, a silver, and three bronze medals.
Tahiti were not far behind with two gold medals, two silvers and a bronze.
Sixteen-year-old Emma Terebo claimed New Caledonia’s first gold of the night in the women’s 100m freestyle, shaving three seconds off her qualifying time to win in 57.46 seconds.
Fiji picked up silver and bronze courtesy of Matelita Buadromo and Caroline Puamau respectively.
“I am very happy about this win, regardless of my time,” Terebo said. “I am eager to see what will come next for me at these Games, I’m flying.”
Tahiti dominated the men’s 200m freestyle with Rahiti De Vos (TAH) snatching gold in 1 minute, 51.87 seconds ahead of countryman Hugo Lambert. New Caledonia’s Jeremie Dufourmantelle claimed bronze.
“I’m really pleased with my race time,” De Vos said. “It has been a while since I improved my time and, even, better, I won.”
New Caledonia’s golden girl in the pool, Lara Grangeon, set a new Pacific Games record in the women’s 400m individual medley.
The 23-year-old swam 4:47.07 in the final, shaving two seconds off the event record she had set in the morning’s qualifying heats.
She collected a second gold medal with the New Caledonia team in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay.
Grangeon, who won 20 medals, including 16 golds, at the Noumea 2011 Pacific Games, has entered 11 more events at Port Moresby 2015.
“I’m getting ready for the world championships in less than a month so this is my preparation,” she said.
In the men’s 100m breaststroke all three medallists broke the Pacific Games record for the event, which had been set at 1:04.62 in the morning’s heats by Benjamin Schulte (GUM).
Despite being the pace-setter, Schulte had to settle for silver in the final, after Amini Fonua (TON) swam to gold in a new record time of 1:02.95.
Schulte took silver in 1:03.42 and Tahiti’s Rainui Teriipaia-Rentier claimed bronze with a time of 1:03.46.
“I haven’t been that fast in years, I just got back into the water two months ago so to do that was a little bit unexpected, but excellent,” Fonua said.
New Caledonia edged Fiji to take gold in the women’s 4x100m freestyle, setting a new Pacific Games record of 3:57.23, less than a second ahead of Fiji, who also bettered the previous record.
Papua New Guinea finished third of the three competing nations.
In the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay Tahiti, who qualified third fastest, claimed gold and set a new Pacific Games record of 3:25.02, improving the previous best time by more than six seconds.
Silver medallists New Caledonia and bronze medallists Papua New Guinea also both beat the previous record.
Cheered on by a boisterous home crowd Pini almost overhauled New Caledonia’s Emmanuel Limozin on the final leg but finished less than half a second behind.
“You really can [hear the cheering from the water] and it pushes you hard all the way, so kudos to the supporters out there,” Pini said.
Pacific Games Media