John Kokinai’s brief Athletics’ career was packed full of highlights and special performances that far surpass any of today’s distance runners in PNG.

He was born on17 May 1951 in the village of Pauluaku, Buin District on the Island of Bougainville. Died 26 September 1992 (Aged 41 years).

John had proved that he had plenty of stamina and long distance running ability back home on Bougainville and had much success in cross country races.

John’s first time to represent his country was in the 1971 South Pacific Games in Tahiti. His chief rival was Fiji’s UsaiaSotutu, who was virtually unchallenged for many years. (Sotutu still holds the Fiji NR for the 3000m, 10000m and 3000m Steeplechase. He is the Pacific Islands’ best-ever for the Steeplechase). Behind the Fiji master, John claimed two medals  -  bronze in the 5000m (15:34.8) and silver in the Steeplechase (9:31.2). It was a promising start to his international career.

By the time the 1975 South Pacific Games in Guam arrived John Kokinai had inherited the mantle of the Islands’ top distance runner.  UsaiaSotutu was past his peak, and John’s main domestic rival, AlaLoi, had retired from the sport. New Caledonia’s Alain Lazare had only just started to make his climb to the top. John reigned supreme.

The three distance races on the track all were won by John, by significant margins.  He won the 5000m (15:01.02), 10000m (32:01.25) and the 3000m Steeplechase (9:29.4). In the Marathon John finished second behind Alain Lazare in 2:37:24.

With these performances John Kokinai was the toast of Guam and the outstanding track and field athlete at the Games.

The following year John joined Wavala Kali and Tau John Tokwepota to be in PNG’s first ever Olympic Games Team  -  Montreal 1976. In the Games John participated in the 5000m and the Marathon.

In the course of his career John set National Records in five different events  -

1500m                                     4:02.3              National Championships Rabaul 1972

5000m                                     14:43.4            National Championships Rabaul 1972

10000m                                   31:34.1            Port Moresby 1971

3000m Steeplechase              9:25.8              Port Moresby 1971

Marathon                                 2:37:24            Guam 1975

He still holds the National Records for the 5000m (43 years later) and the 3000m Steeplechase (44 years later). In 1972, at the National Championships in Rabaul, Tom Brandt tells of John being paced by former world-record holder, Albie Thomas (Australia) to National Records in both the 1500m and 5000m events.

When he was a student at Chanel College, Ulapia in East New Britain, local people were amazed at his heavy training schedule. In the early 1990’s after I moved to the region to continue my teaching career, I would hear stories of him doing hill-running dragging a car tyre behind him, all the time increasing his power and endurance. To run the times he ran in the 1972 National Championships, you had to train very hard.

In the 1975 South Pacific Games in Guam, famed Australian coach, Jack Pross, mentored John. He ensured the training and peaking process was spot-on, and the three gold medals and one silver medal in the distance races attest to the fact that they had a winning combination – top athlete and top coach. Focus and dedication all round.

On the PNG All Time Best Lists he is still measures up very well against all those who went before and have come since. He ranks prominently in six different events  -

1500m                                     4:02.3              1972                3rd

3000m                                     8:53.5              1975                5th

5000m                                     14:43.4            1972                Current NR

(He has the top 4 performances on the ATB Lists).

10000m                                   31:34.1            1975                2nd

3000m Steeplechase              9:25.8              1971                Current NR   

                                                (He has 5 of the top 8 performances on the ATB Lists)

Marathon                                 2:37:24            1975                5th


In addition he holds a number of PNG National Championships Titles.


1500m                                     1972 & 1976

5000m                                     1972 & 1976

10000m                                   1975 & 1976

3000m Steeplechase              1971 & 1975

John’s personal best time for the 5000m, 14:43.4 (current NR), would have been good enough to have won the gold medal at 23 of the 24 Pacific Games competitions held between 1963 and 2015.  His best time for the Steeplechase, 9:25.8 (current NR), would have been good enough to win the gold medal at 19 of the 24 of the Pacific Games competitions since 1963.

On leaving Bougainville to continue his schooling on the mainland, John never returned to his home ples. Following a well-attended, and emotional funeral service at the Murray Barracks Chapel in Port Moresby, he returned home to spend eternity surrounded by his people.

Truly he had contributed more than his share to the Great Moments in Our SportingHistory. He has been missed, and his legacy lives on.




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