06/03/2024

Australia's Frank Pianto coached the Solomon Islands to 12 boxing medals at the 2023 Pacific Games - Image: Frank Pianto/Instagram

Ask anyone within the national boxing community what their most exhilarating experience within the sport has been, and you’re bound to see a common theme in their answers.

From World title fights to bouts to settle major domestic rivalries, Australia has had no shortage of big fights and moments that have captured the public’s imagination.

Put the same question to Frank Pianto and you might get a much different response.

After standing in the corner for the host nation, Solomon Islands boxing team at November’s Pacific Games in Honiara, the trainer admits that the energy inside the National Friendship Hall was unlike any he had experienced previously.

To him, the buzz around the 1,500-seat arena rivalled that of some of boxing’s grandest stages.

“It was fantastic,” Pianto told The Inner Sanctum.

“During the day (there were) all of the Olympic qualifiers and at night it was Island nations vs Island nations.

“I’ve been to some of the biggest cards in Australia like Tszyu vs Horn, all of them, and to have the atmosphere in there at night time was something else.”

Coaching at the games wasn’t his first foray into the Solomons.

Having worked previously to help develop the sport in the area, the Queenslander’s name was already on the radar. Coupled with the fact that nobody in the country held the relevant qualifications to work in an International tournament, Pianto received the call-up.

Though it added to an already packed personal schedule, one that included trips to the USA and New Zealand in the weeks before, the appointment is one the 45-year-old is grateful for.

“Myself and the president of boxing Queensland, Mark Evans, we’d actually done a fair bit of coach education and athlete development in the area. We’d been to the Solomon Islands previously,” he said.

“Those guys, with the Pacific Games coming up, didn’t have the qualifications to be able to be in the corner. Myself, being a three-star AIBA International coach, allowed me to have the qualifications for an International tournament.

“I was there for 10 days, so I had the opportunity to do some further coach education.

“It was a huge opportunity, to be honest. To actually coach the host nation of the Pacific games was quite a massive occasion.

“It was an amazing, humbling experience.”

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With less than two weeks to work with the athletes, the approach became centred on finding each fighter’s positives.

In doing so, the talent began to shine through. While Pianto concedes that the team may have lacked the “tactical and technical knowledge” required to dominate opponents, they didn’t lack effort.

One fighter who stood out to the coach for such qualities was the dogged Max Makana, who won silver in the Lightweight division.

In all, Pianto believes that there is an abundance of untapped ability of the competitors in the region. Regardless of whether they hail from a developing nation or not, their potential is limitless.

“The athletes in the whole Pacific, the talent is there. They just need the coaching,” he said.

“It’s super hard to go there and give them instruction or give them tactics or strategies to win the bouts.

“It was really only about to get them to do what they do well. I can’t make changes like that in a super, super short period of time.

“But generally, I get a fair idea of the way the Pacific Islanders box. So for me to be able to employ tactics against other Island nations was quite good.

“They had about three or four boys who showed some real promise.”

Such optimism for the future of Solomon Islands boxing has merit, given its result at the event.

Across the two boxing tournaments held, the 2024 Oceania Olympic qualifiers and the Pacific Games competition itself, the hosts netted 12 medals and set a new national boxing record in the process.

Though the medal tally was made up of only silver and bronze, meaning no member will make their way to this year’s Paris Olympics, Pianto can see only positives.

Now boasting a high-performance centre and program, he believes the infrastructure is in place to create a framework for success in years to come.

“It was actually history for them,” Pianto concluded.

“Obviously no gold medal, but it’s still quite an achievement considering the previous Pacific Games they only secured two medals.

“They’ve just built a place called SINIS, the Solomon Island National Institute of Sport. It’s been in operation for maybe two or three years now.

“I’d like to think that they could continue heading into the next Pacific games.”

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