Edward Laboran. Inducted into the PNG Sports Hall of Fame in 2011. PNGOC PHOTO.
Born: August 28, 1942
From: NonopaiVillage, Kavieng, New Ireland Province
From an early age Edward’s interest in athletics developed during his education in New Ireland and East New Britain Provinces. This fully developed while he was at the Port Moresby Teacher’s College where he rose to prominence while competing in the Papua New Guinea Amateur Athletics Union competition.
At the age of 19 Edward excelled to become the Territory champion high jumper when he set the Territory record of 6’3’’ (1.92m). In 1962, Edward was given an opportunity to undergo specialized coaching and training at the Melbourne University in Australia. A member of the Territory team at the Perth British Empire and Commonwealth Games in 1962, Edward competed against eight very qualified high jumpers from the other Commonwealth countries and produced his highest jump of 6’4” (1.95m). The following year in 1963, Edward was selected in the Territory team for the inaugural South Pacific Games in Suva, Fiji where he was selected to compete in both the javelin and high jump although he had to withdraw from the javelin because of a clash in timing between the two events. Edward made headlines in the Fiji press and was favoured to take out the gold medal. The Suva Games were a memorable one for Edward as he celebrated his 21st birthday by equalling his Territory record and in the process set a new South Pacific Games record with his jump of 6 feet 4.75 inches. The South Pacific Games record lasted for 12 years, while it remained the best jump by a PNG athlete at the games for 40 years until it was broken in 2003. His jumping accomplishments are made even more remarkable considering Edward jumped off grass and had to land on sand and used the ‘straddle’ jump technique, going over the bar with his stomach. Edward’s gold medal winning performance at the 1963 South Pacific Games puts him down in history as PNG’s first ever gold medal winner at an international sporting event.
A True Pioneer
Edward Laboran was born in Nonopai Village, Kavieng New Ireland on 28th August, 1942 as the World War II was still being waged around the Pacific.
His primary schooling was done at Paruai Area School – the first of its kind under the Australian colonial administration. The main sport he played then was Soccer, but it was for fun and unstructured.
His first taste of Athletics came when he competed at Utu Intermediate School, (under the Queensland Education System), but once again it was unstructured and mainly for enjoyment. On graduation from Utu he then moved to Kerevat Secondary School (1958 & 1959) on the Gazelle Peninsula in New Britain District.
At Kerevat, sport now became more organized and serious. The focus of the year’s activities was the Inter Schools Carnival. Edward was so much better than all of the other high jumpers that he represented the school in both the Junior and Senior Competitions.
In 1960 it was to the Papuan Capital, Port Moresby to attend the teachers’ college at Ward Strip. Edward was in the pioneer group which also included Sir John Kaputin, Rose Kekedo and many other people who went on to make a name for themselves in the late colonial era and into Independence.
The Athletics competitions at this stage were held at the field in Taurama Barracks. The Sir Hubert Murray Stadium and the Sir John Guise Stadium were but a dream for the future. His High Jump of 6’ 0.5” (1.84m) was the first recognized TPNG National Record. Edward used the scissors style for jumping – taking off on the grass run-up and landing on his feet on the grass again. The Fosbury Flop and safe rubber landing mats were not seen for almost another decade.
Edward’s potential was realized and with the possibility of a TPNG Team going to the 1962 Perth British Empire and Commonwealth Games it was arranged for him to undergo training and coaching with the Melbourne University group, under the auspices of famed Hungarian coach Franz Stampfl. While there Edward trained and competed with Australian legends Tony Sneazwell and Laurie Peckham (ten times Australian HJ Champion and winner of two Commonwealth Games gold medals). It was now that he said goodbye to the scissors technique and learned the technically difficult, but very efficient, straddle method of high jumping.
Franz Stampfl coached Roger Bannister to the world’s first sub 4-minute-mile and also coached the Australian, Ralph Doubell, to his gold medal winning 800m in world record time in the Mexico City Olympic Games in 1968. Ralph Doubell is still the PNG All-Comers Record holder with a time of 1:48.8 done in Moresby just after the 1969 SPG.
By this stage Edward had as his idol the Australian jumper Chilla Porter (silver medal in the Melbourne Olympic Games of 1956). His performances had motivated Edward from 1956 onwards.
From Melbourne, with his newly developed skills Edward returned to Port Moresby to join the team to go to Perth for the Empire Games. Also on that team were John Kaputin, Damien Midi and Pidian Labert (from New Britain), Leana Gari (from Rigo) and Ivaharia Oe (from Gulf).
While in Melbourne Edward learned a new game – Golf. He became very proficient at this game and on his return to PNG tried to join the golf club in Madang. In this pre-Independence era that was just not possible. Old colonial attitudes still ruled. Despite being proposed by prominent local people his application was denied. So, it was back to the High Jump.
The PNG Amateur Athletics Union (now known as Athletics PNG) was established in 1961, and held its first National Championships in Lae on 6th October 1962. The High Jump was won by Edward Laboran with a leap of 1.90m.
On 24th November of that year, our National High Jump Champion, Edward, took part in PNG’s first British Empire and Commonwealth Games, in Perth, Western Australia. It was our nation’s first excursion into international competition since the PNGAAU had joined the international Athletics body, the IAAF.
Edward finished in 11th position in the High Jump Final with a leap of 1.93m. It was another PNG National Record, and stood for five years until bettered by Peiwa Waea (1.97m). During this competition Edward competed against his idol – Chilla Porter, and his training partner Tony Sneazwell.
HIGH FLYER: Edward Laboran getting over the bar in one of his competitions. FILE PHOTO.
PNG Athletics had arrived on the world stage – and what great memories for Edward and the rest of the team.
The following year saw the First South Pacific Games, hosted by Fiji, and held in the Fiji capital, Suva. Once again Edward Laboran was in the first PNG team to participate in a Pacific Islands’ Games.
On the 31st August 1963 in the SPG, PNG won three gold medals, but the first of these was claimed by Edward Laboran, who won the High Jump with a clearance of 1.905m. He won the event by an unprecedented 10 centimetres. It is the equal largest winning margin in this event. Prior to the Games Edward felt very confident of success, and his confidence was not misplaced.
After returning from the Games, Sir Donald Cleland arranged for Edward to be transferred from Madang to Rabaul where he could be under the control of Kevan Gosper, who now became his coach and mentor. Kevan Gosper was the manager of the Shell Company in Rabaul, and the manager of the PNG Team to the Perth Empire Games. The next four National Championships were all held in Rabaul, which by then was clearly the centre of Athletics in PNG.
Back in PNG, with almost no overseas meets to provide competition for our athletes, Edward managed to win the National High Jump Championship for four years in a row – 1962, 63, 64 & 65.
Prior to the 1966 South Pacific Games, Peiwa Waea had emerged on the scene, and Edward was making his move into the Decathlon. He also made the move into Cricket at this stage but after a good beginning as a medium-fast bowler he developed a knee injury that brought his sporting career to a halt. Cricket had been a life-long love and his interest started in the village. It is an unusual sport in the New Guinea Island Region, but it was introduced to the local boys by a primary school teacher from Central District.
From now on career (as a teacher and in education administration) and family commitments took centre stage in his life.
Today Edward lives in Lemakot Village, 60km south-east of Kavieng on the eastern side of the long island, with his wife Josepha. They have eight children (four boys and four girls) and 15 grandchildren.
Edward was flown to the Noumea Games in 2011 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the inception of the South Pacific Games concept. He presented the gold medal to the PNG Men’s victorious 4 x 400m Relay Team.
His Commonwealth Games height of 1.93m still ranks as the 12th best performance by any PNG High Jumper.
Edward recounted his most enduring memory of his involvement in sport. In 1949 the District Administator, Ian Downs, organized sporting events in Kavieng for the local youth. Army trucks were sent down the highway to collect all keen young boys and men to come back and participate in the festivities and fun. Six year old Edward jumped on board with all of the older boys.
The District officials and the kiaps all played their part by being officials on the field. Traditional Australian events such as the sack race and the egg-and-spoon race took place.
The High Jump competition was particularly keenly contested. While Edward did not win, he impressed all of those who saw him jump.
After the event was over the officials went to their tent for “tea and scones” and the main topic of conversation was of this little boy who could jump so far above his own height. It was a pity that the women were not there to see him in action.
They approached Edward and offered him 5/- (5 shillings) to give a high jump demonstration and then called the “missus” to come and watch.
In this interview 66 years later Edward sent his belated apologies to the PNG Amateur Athletics Union for breaching their regulations about accepting money for his sporting activities. He has sent an Australian 50 cent coin to Athletics PNG to clear his name of the stigma of “professionalism”.
By being in PNG’s first team to an international Games and also being in PNG’s first team to a regional Islands’ Games, Edward Laboran deserves to be recognized for his trail-blazing performances, and to be one of the first PNG sporting greats to be inducted into the PNG Sporting Hall of Fame. A true pioneer.
Edward was flown to Port Moresby, by the Games Organising Committee, to be a part of the two-week sporting celebration during the XV Pacific Games.
Edward participated in the moving baton relay during the Opening Ceremony, taking the baton from Geua Tau and passing it on to Ryan Pini. Sports greats from the present and the past.
On 16th July he was honoured by being the medal presenter for the Men’s High Jump. A most appropriate choice, and appreciated by all.
The people of New Ireland Province have every reason to be proud of their ground-breaking sporting hero.