December 15, 2017

Priscila Tommy in action on home soil in Vanuatu. (Photo: Courtesy of VAN2017)

A decade ago Vanuatu’s Priscila Tommy was Queen of the Pacific.

In 2007, at just sixteen years of age, Tommy was taking part in the Pacific Games in Apia, Tonga. There the games belonged to Tommy. She kicked off her campaign with a gold medal in the Women’s Team event. Then when it came to the singles she put on a dominate display in the final, defeating Tahiti’s Melveen Richmond in straight games to secure the title.

Tommy kept the momentum going and in 2008 she represented Vanuatu at the Beijing Olympic Games. Perhaps based on her results at the Pacific Games, the Vanuatu star then received the highest honour an Olympic athlete can be given. Tommy was chosen as the flag bearer for Vanuatu at the Opening Ceremony. She went on to be defeated by Slovakia’s Eva Odorova in her opening match, but the taking part, competing, and carrying the flag was a major success.

But then, just as Tommy seemed to be advancing so quickly, she went in to what seemed like an early retirement. She moved away from the table tennis scene to her home island in the Banks and Torres Islands, the northernmost islands of Vanuatu. During that time she became a mother and obviously that was the top priority in recent years.

But in April 2017, Team Vanuatu had some exciting news. It was announced that Tommy would be making a comeback after a seven year absence from the sport. With the 2017 Pacific Mini Games taking place in Vanuatu, the stage was set and the moment was ripe for a comeback on home soil.

The return from retirement wasn’t taking lightly. Vanuatu had the strictest of preparations for the games with the team traveling to China, the home of table tennis, spending some three months preparing for the competition. When the Games got underway the effort came to fruition.

Vanuatu dominated in the teams, winning gold in both the men’s and women’s events.The true showdown however was to be in the singles, when teammates pitted their skills against each other as the chased positions on the podium.

After successfully navigating the group stage, Tommy drew Fiji’s Grace Yee, the number one seed. But that hurdle was overcome with easy, with Vanuatuan notching up a win in straight games. The match was a signal to her opponents that despite her absence from international competition, the Vanuatu defender hadn’t lost her touch.

In the semi-final it was a showdown with Vanuatu’s biggest rival at the games, New Caledonia. Tommy’s opponent, Lorie La, is just fourteen years-old but has more international experience than nearly anyone who took part in the Pacific Mini Games. But despite this, La only managed to put a single game on the board as Pricila Tommy stormed through to the final.

Waiting for Tommy in the final was her teammate Stephanie Qwea.

Qwea, like Tommy, is a defender, and provided the audience a spectacle filled match in there semi-final encounter with crowd favourite Anoyln Lulu. But in the final it was  a case of master and the apprentice.

The experience of Tommy was evident from the get go; calm and composed in defence, yet still confident enough to execute her own attacks with precision. Despite chances in two games, Qwea was unable to get on the board. Pricila Tommy won 4-0, completing her table tennis comeback with a gold medal.

With the Pacific Mini Games now behind us there is one question on everyone’s mind; will we be seeing more of Pricilla Tommy? Only time will tell. But for fans of table tennis in Oceania, let’s hope that is not another seven year wait before we see the Queen of the Pacific in action again.