The crowd exploded in cheers as Samoa's medal-winning Lauren Sale readied herself on the block for the women’s 200m individual medley, the first race of the evening.
Matelita Buadromo of Fiji had a strong showing during the preliminary rounds and New Caledonia’s May Toven looked to podium as well. The buzzer sounded and the women were off.
Sale raced ahead for an early lead during the breaststroke. The crowd was deafening as Buadromo fired back during the final lap. Sale and Buadromo swam neck and neck, but it was the hometown hero, Sale, who touched the pad just 4 tenths of a second faster than Buadromo to take the gold.
May Toven (New Caledonia) was not far behind to claim the bronze.
As Sale wiped tears off her face and stepped down from the podium, the fans and athletes were silent as the lone voice of a Samoan man filled the arena with a traditional Samoan song. An emotional win for the host country.
The previous Games record in the men’s 200m individual medley was broken by not one, but two athletes on Friday.
The host country’s Brandon Schuster (Samoa), broke the previous Games record of 2 minutes and 6.22 seconds with a time of 2:05.54, but it was New Caledonia’s Emmanuel Limozin’s emphatic performance of 2:04.04 that beat Schuster and the previous record by nearly 2 seconds to claim the gold.
Taichi Vakasama (Fiji) won bronze and claimed another medal for Fiji.
After the race, Limozin (NCL) said: “I’m very, very happy to have succeeded and beaten the Games record. The previous Games record was here so it’s really cool.
"I had a few worries because this morning was really hard [in the preliminaries]. I was expecting to make a better time.
"And so after [this morning], I was asking myself a lot of questions. And I knew that [Brandon Schuster] is really strong. And in the competition [on Tuesday], he was much stronger than I was — we are not at the same level. I couldn’t underestimate him.”
Limozin will also be swimming the 100m breaststroke on Saturday, the final day of swimming competition.
The crowd was reeling as the men exited the pool. Limozin and Schuster both looked ecstatic with their performances.
But it wasn't the only record broken on Friday night.
Rahiti De Vos (Tahiti), with a time of 15:40.47, shattered the previous men’s 1500m freestyle record, 15:50.47, by an 10 seconds.
Last night’s gold medal winner in the 400m freestyle, Wesley Roberts (COK) took the silver and Hugo Savignac (NCL) claimed the bronze.
On winning tonight, De Vos said: “I felt good. It was my best time so I’m happy. And it’s a gold medal. So, it’s good for the team. I trained to [maintain my energy].
"This year, I’ve done a lot of long distance, so I’ve trained a lot for the 1500. Arriving today, I felt good - so that was good psychologically. And it’s true that swimming in front of your country’s colours always gives you a boost.”
The entire arena seemed to shake with cheering as the women swam the 100m freestyle. Lushavel Stickland (Samoa) and Emma Terebo (New Caledonia) put on a show as the two bulleted their way in a tightly contested race.
Stickland pushed hard in the last moments, but it was last year’s gold medallist, Terebo who pressed forward to claim the gold just tenths of a second before Stickland. Matelita Buadromo (Fiji) claimed the bronze, reaching the podium for a second time tonight.
New Caledonia continued their gold medal winning performance with Florent Janin claiming gold in the men’s 100m freestyle with a time of 50.59 seconds. Nicolas Vermorel (Tahiti) was just behind Janin and claimed the silver.
Wesley Roberts, the only athlete to medal for the Cook Islands, claimed his second medal of the evening and the third for the Cook Islands at this year’s Games.
The final event of the evening was the mixed 200m freestyle relay. The atmosphere was electric and the cheering deafening as the men and women lined up on the blocks.
Animated fans whistled, cheered, and waved flags over the guardrails with glee as the race went on.
New Caledonia broke another Pacific Games record and claimed yet another gold in an exciting mixed relay with a time of 1:39.79, beating the previous record of 1:40.02.
Fiji’s team went on to win the silver and Tahiti bronze.
Athletes left the pool smiling and embracing as the final event of the evening came to a close. They walked back to their teams with the crowd still roaring and clapping over the railing, praising incredible performances all throughout day 5 of the swimming finals.
The final day of swimming competition is Saturday, starting with the preliminary rounds at 10am. The finals will take place at 6pm.
Photo Pacific Games News Service Caption: Samoa's Lauren Sale waves from the podium