17 Jul 2019

Pacific Games: Tonga takes four medals in taekwondo

8:05 am on 17 July 2019
Pita Taufatofua, Moala Takelo and Master Paula Sitapa.

Pita Taufatofua, Moala Takelo and Master Paula Sitapa. Photo: Vinnie Wylie/RNZ Pacific

Tonga have won four medals, including one gold, on the first day of taekwondo at the Pacific Games, as the Kingdom seeks to restore the sport to its former glory.

Moala Takelo defeated Fred Junior Gwali from Solomon Islands in the final of the men's Under 87kg division to win gold in only his second international event.

Tonga'sMoala Takelo.

Tonga'sMoala Takelo. Photo: Vinnie Wylie/RNZ Pacific

"He gives thanks to God. With God himself he's been able to achieve what he's achieved today and he's so thankful."

Sione Tufi, Viliami Moala and Tekiteki Ngahe also won bronze medals at the Harvest Centre in Apia.

Their coach, Master Paula Sitapa, was last the Tongan to win gold in taekwondo at the Pacific Games back in 2007 and said the next generation are showing a lot of promise.

"I am so proud of not only him but all the boys that compete today. This is their first Pacific Games and their second international games."

"They've only been training like seven months and I've only been able to help them in three months. To achieve this goal of course I am so proud - they have done more than what I expect from them," he said.

Paula Sitapa said historically taekwondo is Tonga's most successful sport at the Pacific Games. The Kingdom won eight medals on the mat in 2007 but in 2011 only managed one silver medal, while four years ago in PNG they came home with a solitary bronze.

In an effort to change that narrative, Master Sitapa quit his job of 15 years and moved from New Zealand to Tonga to train their national squad.

Pita Taufatofua and the rest of Team Tonga show their support.

Pita Taufatofua and the rest of Team Tonga show their support. Photo: Vinnie Wylie/RNZ Pacific

Tonga's most famous taekwondo athlete, Pita Taufatofua, also helped out during a three week training camp held in Brisbane last month and despite not competing himself has travelled to Samoa with the team.

Moala Takelo said the 2016 Olympian is a huge inspiration.

"Pita has become a role model for all of them and watching him take his time to come and help them it's a great inspiration for all of them, so much thanks to Pita to take his time off to come and help and they have learned so much from this period and the mentality that Pita has shared with them," he said.

Tonga have two women competing on day two of competition in Apia, while all seven of their taekwondo team will back up for the Oceania Championships, which start tomorrow at the same venue.

Aussie Aussie Aussie...Aussie Aussie

While it was a great day for Tonga it was a truly fantastic day for Australia who won gold in all five events they competed in.

Damon Cavey kicked off proceedings in the men's Under 63kg division, with Thomas Afonczenko (U68), Leon Sejranovic (U74), Jack Marton (U80) and Alan Salek (87+) all following suit to complete a green and gold sweep of their events.

The head coach of the Australian taekwondo team, Ali Khalil, said it was a perfect day of perfect results.

"We hold no expectations in terms of results - we certainly hold a high expectation in what we want from our athletes in terms of performance and we just wanted them to perform the best way we know they can and we were certain that had they did that we'd get away with some good results," he said.

Head Coach of the Australian taekwondo team, Ali Khalil.

Head Coach of the Australian taekwondo team, Ali Khalil. Photo: Vinnie Wylie/RNZ Pacific

Ali Khalil said both the Pacific Games and Oceania Championships offer 40 points to the winner of each division, so having a double-header in Apia this week could be very lucrative for competitors with Olympic ambitions.

"A certain level of points allows you the opportunity to compete in the GP events, which is only the top 32 in the world get invited to the Grand Prix events."

"So our first aim is to try and get as many athletes as we can qualifying for that and then from there competitions like the GP events will determine obviously who gets closer to that step in Tokyo."

Australia have 17 athletes competing in taekwondo at the Pacific Games but will have close to 30 at the Oceania Championships, with three competing in each division.