Papua New Guinean athlete Rellie Kaputin has enjoyed a whirlwind few months, setting national records and personal bests, defeating Australian favourites, and collecting three gold and two silver medals in the process.
Kaputin, who competes in long jump, triple jump and high jump, returned from the Samoa 2019 Pacific Games with three medals, just weeks after beating Australia’s top stars for gold in the long jump and triple jump at the Oceania Championships.
The 26-year-old spent 10 weeks training in Australia’s Gold Coast ahead of the two events, after receiving funding from the Australian Government’s Australia Pacific Sports Linkages Program.
The intensive preparation paid off. At the Oceania Championships in Townsville in June, Kaputin won gold in the long jump, shocking Australian Olympian Brooke Stratton and rising star Naa Anang, and setting a new PNG national record (6.50 metres) in the process. In the triple jump, the Papua New Guinean beat two other highly-fancied Australian athletes, Ellen Pettitt and Aliyah Johnson, jumping 13.04m.
Three weeks later and more than 4,000 kilometres away at the Pacific Games in Samoa in July, Kaputin retained her gold in the long jump and collected silver in the triple jump and high jump.
Her long jump performance in particular was a source of pride. Although her gold medal-winning best jump of 6.15m was short of Townsville, Kaputin was delighted to achieve a new personal best level of consistency in the event.
“I’m quite impressed with myself because this is the first competition where I went over six metres in all of my six jumps, and it’s something that I’m really proud of,” Kaputin said.
“I worked really hard for six weeks in Australia on strengthening my legs and gaining some weight, and the last four weeks we focused on techniques and getting everything together and looking forward to the Pacific Games,” she revealed.
“I went out here in the long jump and did what I had to do, and I was so proud of myself.”
The long jump personal best performance capped an otherwise tough week at the Pacific Games for Kaputin, who failed to retain her titles in the triple jump and high jump and was forced to settle for silver.
She lost her triple jump gold to PNG teammate Annie Topal, while Fiji’s Shawntell Lockington edged the high jump. Kaputin admitted that coming second in those two events provided added motivation in the long jump, her final event of the Games.
“After the big upset where I didn’t defend my titles in the high jump and the triple jump, I think I pulled myself together and I just believed in myself that I had to go out and get my gold medal back from 2015 in the long jump at least, and I did it, so I was happy,” she said.
Kaputin was the only athlete, male or female, to complete in high jump, long jump and triple jump at Samoa 2019. Despite a trio of gold medals at the last Pacific Games on home soil and recent record-breaking performances, she admitted it can be difficult to maintain top techniques in all three.
“Focusing on more than type of jump is difficult. It’s more difficult for me to go to the horizontal jump, the high jump, because sometimes I focus more on the triple jump and long jump, so it’s always hard for me to get that horizontal jump in the high jump. But I just have to put everything together and just go for it.”
Kaputin grew up as a sprinter in PNG’s East New Britain Province, inspired by her uncle Sir John Kaputin, who was a member of the country’s trailblazing first athletics team to attend an international event, the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth.
But, she revealed, she was encouraged to switch from track to field. “I was doing sprints but there were are a lot of sprinters in PNG, so in order to get into the development squad for PNG I had to specialise in the jumps. So when I was in high school I switched to jumps, and eventually I got into Team PNG.”
PNG enjoyed widespread success in athletics at Samoa 2019, with their second-place finish in the overall Games medal tally built on stellar track and field performances.
“Everyone is so, so excited,” Kaputin smiled. “We moved from sixth place to second place on the medal tally thanks to athletics, and everyone is in good team spirit and here to support each other.”
Kaputin’s next goal is qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.