The three are female athletes are Iammo Gapi Launa and Geua Vada Tau and male athlete, the late Sibona Oka, who were inducted during the 5th PNG Sports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony which was held at the Grand Papua Hotel in Port Moresby on Thursday night.
They are the latest to be inducted into an exclusive club of sporting legends whose sporting accomplishments are some of PNG’s greatest sporting moments.
Vice Minister for Sport, Wesley Raminai, congratulated the inductees and thanked them for their part in shaping the country’s history through their sporting achievements.
“Thank you for pursuing your respective paths and being an example of what our country can achieve. Your contributions have enriched our nation and allowed Papua New Guineans to be proud of whom we are,” said Raminai.
“Your contributions have provided inspiration for your fellow citizens to excel.”
Launa was an all-round athlete who competed in athletics, netball, volleyball and basketball, among other sports. She was the captain of the PNG national women’s volleyball and netball teams and is known to be the only athlete to compete in two different sports at the Pacific Games. This was in 1995 at the Tahiti Games where she competed in athletics and netball.
While Launa competed for PNG at all levels of sport, including the World Championships, Pacific Games, Commonwealth Games and the Olympics, many of the numerous records she made in athletics still stand.
Launa attributed her abilities to her childhood in the village and the support of her school teachers and coaches who encouraged her to try different things.
She said being inducted into the Hall of Fame is a special honour and another major achievement in her life and career.
“One day my grandchildren will see my photos and stories and can be proud of my achievement as a sports person,” Launa said.
Her Team PNG teammate to the 1990 Commonwealth Games, Geua Tau, also participated in various sports before becoming a household name in Lawn Bowls.
It was at these Games in 1990 in Auckland, New Zealand, that Tau became the first PNG athlete to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games.
“I love sports and started competing because I didn’t want to get bored doing nothing.
“I learned the rules, trained hard and competed and I am very pleased to have represented PNG and to win the first gold medal for us – I will never forget that day,” she said.
Tau was a dominant force on the lawn bowls scene from 1981 when she started till her last international competition at the 19th Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India.
The lone male inductee in this year’s ceremony, Oka, was a weightlifting sensation who shot to the top of his game when he made the national team after practicing for less than a year at the old YMCA club located at Badili.
His first weightlifting competition was at the 1969 South Pacific Games at the Murray Barracks in Port Moresby. Oka won a silver medal behind a Tahitian competitor.
The silver was the first ever medal for a PNG weightlifter at a Pacific Games. During that competition, Oka also became the first ever athlete to lift at the Pacific Games since it was the first Games for the sport to be included.
Four years later he beat the Tahitian for the gold and made history again as the first person to win gold for PNG in weightlifting at the Pacific Games. He again won gold at the Pacific Games in 1980.
Oka passed away in 2010 and was represented by his wife, Kema, at the induction ceremony. She remembers him as a loving and kind man but very serious with his sport.
“He trained very hard and developed his own training methods and equipment to help him get better in his game,” she said.
The three join 14 others in the Sports Hall of Fame who shall be remembered always as PNG’s all time sporting greats.
The PNG Sports Hall of Fame is an initiative of the PNG Olympic Committee to recognise individuals who have significantly contributed to sport in PNG through their achievements.
(From left: Kema Oka, wife of inductee late Sibona Oka, lawn bowler Geua Tau and multi-sport champion, Iammo Launa, with plaques indicating their inclusion into the Hall of Fame)