The future is bright for Guam track and field. Armed with a mix of youth and veteran leadership, Team Guam cleaned up at the 2018 Oceania Micronesian Area Regional Championships held June 14-15 at Oleai Sports Complex in Saipan. At the end of the two-day event, which featured athletes from several island nations scattered across Micronesia, Team Guam had added 35 gold medals, 19 silvers and 12 bronze medals to its ever-growing war chest.
Guam’s Genina Criss’ performance blazed a trail of her own, picking up two gold medals and garnering the Most Outstanding Female Performance award, the equivalent of the games’ MVP.
Overcoming what she said she felt was a bad start, Criss posted first in the women’s 800m with a 2:24.5, setting a personal record to beat her Pacific Mini Games previous best of 2:27. While her 1,500m time was 9 seconds off her PR from Mini Games, she still posted a 5:07.14.
Criss said, “I definitely surprised myself with the 800 race! Once I was able to get my legs going, I put everything I had into my kick.”
Ever the competitor, Criss said she is looking to train more efficiently for the next competition, using the Saipan competition as a time trial, allowing her to see where she can hone in to better train for the Micronesian Games in Yap next month.
“The experience was great,” Criss said. “It was a good warmup for the upcoming Micronesian Games next month where I’ll be competing in the 10,000, 5,000, 1,500 and 800m races.”
After winning the Most Outstanding Female Performance award, Criss said she felt humbled to be recognized after receiving the prestigious award.
“First, I want to give the glory to God and I want to thank my coaches – Derek and Desmond Mandell, my parents for being there every step of the way ... and teammates,” said Criss when asked who she wanted to recognize. She said her parents found a way to be there spiritually, especially since her mom is currently undergoing chemotherapy.
After a six-year hiatus from competition, Guam Olympian Derek Mandell hit the ground, running the 1,500 and 3,000m events. Despite earning a gold in both events, Mandell admits he wanted to run faster times.
“I think I did OK for where I’m at in training. In February, I decided to make a return to the sport in middle distance after a six-year hiatus,” he said. “I wanted to run a lot faster than I did, but I know it’s all a process.”
His target is the Pacific Games next year in Samoa, he said, adding this was a gauge and gives him time to hone in for training.
No stranger to international competition, Team Guam captain Genie Gerardo set the tone for an extremely young track team. The veteran earned three gold medals and one silver – golds in javelin, hammer throw and shot put and a second-place finish in the discus.
Posting a season’s best in discus, Gerardo said she was happy to set a PR in the javelin.
“It was a great experience competing with a young and new team,” she said, loving the camaraderie and team support among the athletes, coaches, fans and managers.
As the captain, she said the experience of being with so many younger athletes was interesting and stressful.
“Interesting because you get to meet new people,” she said. “Stressful because, as a veteran, I have to be a role model and help assist them."
For now, Gerardo is going to focus on training for the games in Yap where she will be competing in the discus, shot put and javelin.
Another veteran on the track scene, Justin Andre, who earned gold in the hammer, discus and shot put, said he was happy with his performance based on his training thus far.
Despite having several regional and international competitions under his belt, Andre said this one was different.
“All were great experiences, but this by far was the best,” he said. I’ve been blessed to have such a unique experience this time around with having my kids, Isaiah and Sophia, and my wife, Nicole, be apart of my life in competing and representing Guam.”
And, like Gerardo, he found himself in a unique role as adviser to the younger crew that joined the ride to Saipan.
“This trip, I had a veteran role, but more so anywhere I could help, I tried,” he said. “A lot of times in the field events we don’t travel much with our individual coaches so I helped as best I could to be the extra eyes when I wasn’t competing myself.”
For recent Okkodo High School graduate Danica Cacayan, her first trip out was an experience she isn’t likely to forget. Despite earning silver in the 400m hurdles and bronze in the 100m hurdles, she said she sees room for more improvement.
Though her events didn’t produce her usual times, she was ecstatic with her first time representing Guam.
“It was an awesome feeling to experience running for Team Guam,” she said. “Not a lot of people get to experience this, and I’m glad to be one of those people getting to show off what Guam can do.”
With her first international experience behind her, she said she looks forward to another competition.
“If I want to compete in future competitions, I’d have to keep training and putting in the hard work because I believe that hard work does not go unnoticed,” she said.
First-timer Kiana Rivera said she was surprised to find herself medaling in five of her six events.
“My goal every time I run or jump is to PR,” said the incoming junior at John F. Kennedy High School. “I always tell myself, in order to do that, I have to be mentally strong, that I’m my own competition. And, I apply that to everything in life, basically … to beat my own records and progress.”
Rivera, who also will be competing with Haggan Volleyball in the 10th Annual Southern California Volleyball Association Summer Soiree in Anaheim, California, later this month, said she enjoyed the experience of seeing different Micronesian countries come together to compete.
“They all came from small islands, but there definitely was a lot of skill and talent to compete with,” she said. “The team bond, the support, the hype, the adrenaline – it was all there which made it really competitive but fun at the same time.”
Look for Team Guam in Yap with many of the same faces eager to make their mark on a bigger stage.