PNG produced many fine athletes during the 1960s and 70s, but few swimmers of note. Unlike disciplines such as track and field, weight lifting, the football codes, softball, boxing and even lawn bowls where leading competitors mushroomed, the ranks of top class swimmers were decidedly slender.
Prime among those late sixties aquatic competitors who did excel in the pool were breaststroker Toby Tovitolon, freestyler Oala Moi and the Mae Verave sisters from Marshall Lagoon in the Central District. Tovitolon captained the PNG swim team at Moresby’s South Pacific Games in 1969.
Since then there have been a number of outstanding swimmers representing PNG at international meets, not least Ryan Pini who won gold in the 100m butterfly at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006.
It was always a surprise to me that PNG didn’t produce more local swimmers of note. On any given day in the country’s coastal areas, scores of children of all ages could be found leaping in and out of the sea.
But pool swimming demands real discipline. Countless hours of training. It’s a demanding sport and, as I wrote in a Post-Courier feature in December 1976, perhaps the required strict training regimen discouraged many potential PNG swim stars.
Dedicated coaches can train youngsters in basic stroke skills and techniques, even for something as demanding as butterfly swimming. Once those techniques have been mastered thousands of laps need to be swum so that fitness and durability can be built up. The long, hard training grind might have been just too much for many aspiring PNG teenagers.