Fiji’s Va’a sensation, Elenoa Vateitei, has etched her name in Fiji Va’a history by securing her second individual gold and third overall in the V1 16km marathon.
Her performance marked a significant improvement from her bronze finish in Samoa four years ago, which her coaches Michael Fong and Duane Reiher put down to the depth of her dedication and growth in the sport.
Vateitei, who took up the sport nine years ago and in her third appearance at the continental games, clinched not only her first-ever Va’a Gold, but also Fiji Va’a first-ever Gold medal at a Pacific Games when she finished first in the V1 500m on Monday. She followed it up with a stunning victory in the V1 16km marathon.
The 16km marathon saw Vateitei leading the race from start to finish, maintaining a substantial lead over competitors from Va’a strongholds Tahiti and New Caledonia. She completed the initial 8km lap in 43.21 minutes, crossing the finish line with an impressive time of 1:30.09.
Reflecting on her achievement, she said, “A proud moment for Fiji Va’a, outrigger canoeing as a whole, as a sport. I think all the praises go back to the men above, for keeping me safe out there on the water, making sure I don’t flip, and keeping my canoe in one piece.
Vateitei credited her success to the support of her team and mental preparation, saying, “I think this time around it came down to the 5 percent my coach talked about, like the mental part of things. I kept convincing myself that I can do it because you know, marathon is such a long race, and it’s like a dog fight through the 16km.”
Known as an overthinker, Vateitei shared, “I like to break down the race and know the distance between two turning points so I can tell myself I need to push for another 3km or another 1.5k.”
The symbolic moment in her race came when she saw the Fijian flag being waved along the beach.
“I just thought for a moment, wow, we get to sing our national anthem the second time in a sport that is not as big as our rugby. That is reassuring for the sport as a whole.”
She said her victory over the Goliaths of Va’a “speaks volumes of the support we have received and the faith that we have not only in each other but in our team as a whole.”
Fong, who was not surprised by Vateitei’s performance, highlighted her commitment and adaptability, stating, “Elenoa has her own regime as well as what we give her. She is always willing to learn and adapt to different situations, and we have just seen her make gradual improvement.”
Reiher shared similar sentiments. Expressing pride in Vateitei’s achievements, he said, “Prior to this Games, Fiji has only won one Gold for the women (mini games), so having two Gold medals this time is a real joy for all of us. Elenoa has built up over the years and reached the top of the mountain now, and we hope to keep her up there for as long as possible.”
As Vateitei prepares for her final event at the 2023 Solomon Games in the 24km V6 race at Iumi Water Sports Park in Honiara this morning, she hopes her journey serves as an inspiration to aspiring paddlers, and seasoned paddlers alike.