On this day, three years ago, CNMI swimmer Lennosuke Suzuki had a record-breaking debut in the prestigious 69th Annual Keo Nakama Invitational held at the Veterans’ Memorial Aquatic Center in Hawaii.
Suzuki raced in the 200m freestyle event and clocked in at 2:06.02 to crush the 9-year-old record (2:07.15/Dec. 28, 2008) of Kai Staal in the boys 13 to 14 age group.
Five more age group marks were made by CNMI swimmers in the Hawaii tournament held from June 30 to July 2, 2017, with Kento Akimaru setting two (800m and 1,500m freestyle events in the 15 to 16 division) and Suzuki’s brother, Jinnosuke earning three (11 to 12’s 400m, 800m, and 1,500m freestyle swims).
The Suzuki brothers and Akimaru are just three of the many CNMI swimmers, who managed to excel not only in local competitions, but in off-island tournaments, too. Also on the long list of CNMI swimmers that broke records one after another and brought honors to the Commonwealth by racing in international and regional meets across the globe are CNMI Hall of Famer Xenavee Pangelinan and Olympian Jonathan Sakovich.
The islands’ swimmers have been regulars in the FINA World Championships and FINA World Cup, have raced in the Pacific and Mini Pacific Games, and the Micronesian Games, and were also invited to compete in Japan, Australia, Guam, Palau, and elsewhere.
What do these achievers have in common?
The former Kan Pacific Swimming Pool.
Since opening its doors to the public in the late 1980s, the Marpi facility had been the breeding ground for record-holders and competition medalists, as well as refuge for people wanting to learn waters safety techniques to protect themselves and their family and enjoy the islands and its pristine beaches.
Unfortunately, the only 50-meter pool in the CNMI ceased operations on Sept. 30, 2018 and since then, the islands’ swimmers, showing persistence despite the absence of an appropriate training venue, opted to practice in private pools.
The Kan Pacific Pool up to this day has remained closed, but efforts have been made to work on its reopening. The Northern Marianas Islands Swimming Federation and the Northern Marianas Sports Association, early this year, have started coordinating with various government agencies and the private sector to reopen the facility and bring back to life what was once a thriving sports program in the CNMI.
Swimming played a big factor in the Commonwealth’s outstanding performance in the 2010 Micronesian Games in Palau. The CNMI collected 44 gold medals, 23 silver, and 25 bronze. The 44 gold medals were the most the islands got since the inception of the Micro Games in 1969 and nearly half of them came from swimming—13 were from the Micro Games’ top male athlete Rezne Wong.
The next Micro Games is two years away and there will be other tournaments in between, like the 19th FINA World Aquatics Championships (Long Course) in Japan in 2021 and 15th FINA World Swimming Championship (Short Course) also in 2021 in Abu Dhabi.
It’s just right that CNMI swimmers prepare hard for these competitions and return to the place where they truly belong—the Kan Pacific Swimming Pool.