Preparations began earlier this year with the establishment of a small training group of national squad athletes at Utmei Secondary School, East New Britain, under the guidance of National Coach Bernard Manau.
Thanks to funding from World Athletics and the support of PNG Air, a second and larger training camp is now underway in Kerowagi, Simbu Province.
Following the National Championships in Port Moresby recently, a total of nine Simbu based athletes were invited to join the camp along with two promising young athletes from West New Britain and a number of established runners, including George Yamak, Lyanne Tibu, Israel Takap, Mary Kua, Mary Tenge and Ongan Awa.
There will be a total of nine male and ten female athletes in the Camp initially, said coordinator Philip Kamane, who is a former representative distance runner now working at the National Sports Institute.
Kamane said Simbu Province has provided most of the distance runners who have represented PNG in recent years and it is hoped that by establishing a programme such as this, more athletes will be drawn into joining the training programme.
“We will conduct some road and cross country races as part of the programme, which will hopefully highlight some more hidden talent.”
Some of the athletes will be in the Camp only for the duration of the school holiday, such as ENB based Takap, James Kuadua, Siune Kagl and Mary Tenge. Space will be available once they return to school, hence more athletes can be added.
Local Simbu coaches Arnold Gigmai and Sapolai Yao are expected to assist with the training and with other national coaches coming in for periods of time. West New Britain coach Wilson Malana and his wife, Beatrish, volunteered to spend part of the holiday period with the athletes to assist with the setting up of the programme.
The programme objective is to raise the standard of distance running in PNG, which has been in a state of decline in recent years, said APNG President Tony Green.
“In fact, all around the Pacific, not just in PNG. Whilst our athletes have been breaking national records in sprints, hurdles, jumps and throws in recent years, most of the men’s national records in long distance events date back to the 1970’s and 80’s whereas most of the women’s records were set by Rosemary Omundsen in the early 1990’s.
“We aim to have 4 to 6 male and a similar number of female athletes reach a standard that we consider worthy of selection for such a high standard meet,” stated Green.
The event includes 10km races for men and women plus junior men (8km) and junior women (6km) and a mixed relay consisting of two male and two female athletes, each of whom will run 2km. The inclusion of the mixed relay is an opportunity to involve middle distance runners in the programme. Over the course of the next few weeks, Athletics PNG will be inviting other sponsors to support the programme which also has the potential to deliver great benefits for PNG in the middle and long distance events at the 2022 Pacific Mini Games and 2023 Pacific Games in Honiara.
The training programmes in Kerowagi and ENB will be complemented by a suitable competition programme for the athletes, including cross country experience in Australia in 2021 and a period of final preparation in Australia for the selected athletes from December 2021 to February 2022.
(Members of the Kerowagi training camp)