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Indigenous Australian competitors lead the way to close 2023 Pacific Games

Andrew Mathieson -

Every Australian competitor farewelled the Pacific Games on Sunday evening feeling pretty satisfied, but perhaps none walked taller to a sold-out closing ceremony than Marissa Williamson Pohlman.

Australia had set an unprecedented record in its third only Pacific Games competition in which where every single male and female representative won at least one medal.

The medal count tallied 50 gold, 24 silver and 10 bronze from 75 competitors, all from just eight of the 24 participated sports.

Indigenous Australians in two of them did not lose a contest. Four from four.

Sprinter Calab Law – at just 19 – took out both the 100 and 200 metres gold medals on the athletics track to further strengthen his claims for a 2024 Olympics Games berth.

For the boxers, a gold-medal victory was all it took to book a ticket to France.

Australia took 12 of the 13 Olympic quotas inside the ring to represent the region next year.

Callum Peters – just a year older than Law – secured an almost expected gold medal in the middleweight division after unluckily collecting the silver at last year's more prominent Commonwealth Games.

But for Pohlman alone, the Pacific Games was not just about winning gold nor about reserving a seat on the flight to Paris, but about personally making history.

The Ngarrindjeri woman, who was raised on Wadawurrung Country in Victoria, will become the first Indigenous Australian woman to compete in boxing at the Olympics.

To achieve the momentous feat, Pohlman had to overcome a niggling knee injury to fight off Maori woman Cara Wharerau from New Zealand in the 66 kg final.

The reality of what she had achieved was still sinking in between competition and the closing ceremony.

"I'm so excited to go home, spend time with family and the mob back home that have raised me from the grassroots level up," the 21-year-old told media.

"Never in my life did I think I could go to an Olympic Games.

"I was just a lost foster kid at one point, and four short years later, I'm travelling the world with the sport I love, and I just qualified for the Olympics.

"I hope there's kids who might see this, and know there can be a future and it can get better."

The fact that retired Olympic volleyball champion, Kerri Pottharst, has been a mentor for Pohlman in recent times should not surprise most how far she has gone, from Werribee, to the Solomon Islands, and to now onto Paris.

In just August of this year, Pohlman won her consecutive third title at the Australian Elite Boxing Championships and she was the first woman to win the Arthur Tunstall Trophy, awarded to the best overall amateur boxer at the national tournament.

To summarise Australia's Pacific Games team, its Chef de Mission, Kenny Wallace, chose to focus more on his representatives embracing the spirit of Honiara during the festival of multi-sport than celebrating his own country's medal achievements.

"This team has represented Australia, their sport and families with immense pride," he said.

"I'm even more proud of the way this team carried themselves supporting teammates, competitors, and the host country, competing in the spirit of sport and embracing the Pacific Games as the new friendly Games."

So much so that fridges, washing machines and other electrical appliances sent over for the Australian team have been donated to local schools and care centres across the Solomon Islands, along with their remaining medical supplies and clothing.

The 2023 Games closed in a spectacular night of colour and music in Honiara in front of a packed National Stadium, after 14 days of engaging sporting competition that brought more than 5000 competitors and officials from 24 nations throughout Oceania.


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