The A Team with Jica trainer Ryosuke Itomi (standing left) and Mary Estelle Kapalu (also standing fourth from left)

Former 400 metres gold medalist and current Pacific Games Sprint Coach, Mary Estelle Kapalu, and her Japanese colleague and JICA Athletics Coach, Ryosuke Itomi, both have high hopes as they posed for pictures with their track team before they departed for the Pacific Games yesterday, with five young female and six male athletes to represent Vanuatu.

Kapalu whose name has become a household word throughout Vanuatu said the advantage of the current team is that apart from two or three members of the squad who have already competed internationally, “the majority are all young students who were handpicked from the latest National Secondary School Games which was held in Port Vila this year”.

She said while it is not easy to compete outside Vanuatu for the first time with the best athletes from other countries, she is confident “our athletes would set personal records as well as win some medals”.

Asked what message she has for the population of Vanuatu for the departing team, she replied, “Please wish our athletes all the best and pray for them to do their best in whatever distance that they compete in throughout the Games.

“In times like this, all that our athletes need is public support and not negative comments because while competing for Vanuatu up there in the Solomons, they are all Ambassadors of our country.

“Be proud of them whatever the outcome of their efforts”.

The Nagoya-born Japanese also is confident of the team saying because they are young, competing in the Pacific Games is going to be challenging for them at first but once they overcome their initial challenge then it is going to be easier for them to perform.

Mary Estelle registered her name as a National Star Athlete in the South Pacific Mini Games in the Solomons and continued to be a national beacon for stars until the South Pacific Mini Games at Korman Stadium in 2001, where she raced away with the gold medal in the 400 metre final.