Vanuatu hadn't won a single Commonwealth Games medal when they travelled to Gold Coast 2018, but they left the Australian city with two. 

Para-athlete Friana Kwevira set the ball rolling with bronze in the women's javelin throw F46, before beach volleyball duo Linline Matauatu and Miller Pata claimed a medal of the same colour three days later.

This success means excitement is building in Vanuatu leading up to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, but their performance last time out will be a tough act to follow.

"That was history," said Julia King, Vanuatu's Chef de Mission for Birmingham 2022.

"That was the first time we added something onto our medal tally, which increased from zero to two.

"At this point that's a very high bar for me already.

"The challenge is going to be on."

King is the Women in Sports Commission chair at the Vanuatu Association of Sports And National Olympic Committee (VASANOC), so the Gold Coast medallists were particularly special.

Beach volleyball duo Linline Matauatu and Miller Pata won bronze for Vanuatu at Gold Coast 2018 ©Getty Images
Beach volleyball duo Linline Matauatu and Miller Pata won bronze for Vanuatu at Gold Coast 2018 ©Getty Images

"The two medals were both won by female athletes, beach volleyball and javelin," she said.

"This is why this is such a good journey for me.

"We'd been doing quite a bit of work leading up to then, so it was so good. 

"It added to our campaign. It was so good to see that women were representing, and not just representing, they were actually bringing home the medals."

Vanuatu's 22-strong team in Birmingham will only include Pata in beach volleyball, who now has a new partner in Sherysyn Toko.

Pata celebrated her bronze in Gold Coast with her seven-month-old baby Tommy, who was hoisted into the air so she could place her medal around his neck.

In 2019, she won gold at the Pacific Games in Samoa alongside Toko.

"The whole country is rooting for our beach volleyball girls as well as probably the rest of Oceania," said King, who will be Chef de Mission for the first time.

"I'm keeping my fingers crossed for them.

"They are the reigning champions in the region at the moment, so now it's about taking it to Commonwealth level."

Kwevira will also not be returning in Birmingham after moving into a professional career, but Vanuatu will be able to call on another Para-athlete in Ellie Enock, who competes in throwing events.

"She's won a few medals at the regional Games," said King.

Others to watch for Vanuatu in athletics include young sprinters Obed Timbaci and sisters Claudie and Chloe Merick. 

"I'm excited they get to be part of this global event, that can only help them, if not for now, maybe for the future," King added.

Vanuatu will also be competing in boxing, judo, table tennis and weightlifting in Birmingham.

Para javelin thrower Friana Kwevira won the first medal in Vanuatu's Commonwealth Games history  ©Getty Images
Para javelin thrower Friana Kwevira won the first medal in Vanuatu's Commonwealth Games history ©Getty Images

But the squad has faced the challenge of expiring passports which means there will be no women's representation in table tennis.

"Passports haven't been that useful for the last three years, so people haven't kept up with their travel documents," said King.

"We're finding this out in the dying months.

"There's a boom in travel, and with that comes a passport shortage in the country.

"We've had teams having to travel on diplomatic passports, because there's not enough official passports...

"So unfortunately the women's table tennis team won't be travelling with us."

A number of Vanuatu's athletes are based overseas, including in the United States, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia.

This brings about its own logistical challenges.

"I said yes [to the job] kinda thinking that everyone will travel from Vanuatu and we'll all go forward from here, given that it was a pandemic," said King. 

"But people just took off and went all over the globe. 

"We are fortunate that we have a wonderful travel agent who has been very patient with us. 

"He's been wonderful putting all of this together.

"It's a miracle that we've made it this far and no-one's lost their heads yet. 

"It's a very small contingent, so I cannot imagine the other countries who have to organise way more numbers than this."

One of the team's boxers left Vanuatu unexpectedly for seasonal employment.

"We had to track him down and we found that he was in New Zealand somewhere," said King.

"So we had to prepare his documentation and get stuff across to him, and his employer is able to let him go."

The Queen's Baton Relay visited Vanuatu in February and travelled on a 300m zipline above the rainforest.

Miller Pata presents her bronze medal to her seven-month-old baby Tommy at Gold Coast 2018 ©Getty Images
Miller Pata presents her bronze medal to her seven-month-old baby Tommy at Gold Coast 2018 ©Getty Images

In Mele Village, Paramount Chief Simeon Poilapa Tivatelapa IV represented his traditional community while the baton was also taken across the Vanuatu Sky Bridge and ridden on horseback. 

"The relay this year was one of the biggest that Vanuatu has ever seen," said King. 

"It was very engaging. People actually remember it and talk about it. 

"They see me and they go 'you're the lady from the Queen's baton'.

"We've left an impact, and we're constantly going back to the media to remind everyone that the Games are on, the 28th of July to the 8th of August, and we'll be looking forward to having everyone cheer Team Vanuatu on."

The COVID-19 pandemic unfortunately struck after the Relay's visit when enthusiasm for the Games was gathering speed.

"We had our first community outbreak in March right after the Queen's Baton Relay," said King.

"The Relay is the curtain-raiser for the Commonwealth campaign and we were hoping to get a momentum flowing, so we could gauge the population's interest in following the team. 

"The lockdown came and it threw everything up in the air. 

"The main struggle was getting athletes to their qualifying events, and even just to train and gear up to get ready for Birmingham."

King represents the Vanuatu Football Federation on the VASANOC Board, and is President of both the Port-Vila Women's Football League and Mauriki FC.

But for now focus is on Birmingham 2022, and particularly the Opening Ceremony.

"Everyone's asking 'who's going to be broadcasting, where do we find the link?'" said King.

"I think it's going to be exciting times. 

Vanuatu debuted at the Commonwealth Games in 1982 ©Getty Images
Vanuatu debuted at the Commonwealth Games in 1982 ©Getty Images

"The Games are arriving right in the middle of the country's 42nd independence celebrations. 

"So everyone's going to be out and about. And the fact that Team Vanuatu is in Birmingham flying the Vanuatu flag, I think we can easily interlink both activities. 

"Someone's asked me if we could put up a screen somewhere for everyone to come and watch the opening parade. 

"Because a lot of people participated in the Queen's Baton Relay, and everyone's looking forward to seeing how the baton is going to make it into the opening event.

"It's the very same baton we held in February, and now it's marching into an arena of 35,000 people and there's 1.5 billion people watching globally. 

"Hopefully they show the footage of Vanuatu and all of their faces are going to pop up. That's the momentum and build-up we're aiming for at this point."

One challenge will be the time difference, but the Commonwealth Games tradition of marching out countries by region means Vanuatu might not have to wait until the end of the alphabet to appear.

"At the Olympic Games, VASANOC put up a large screen," said King.

"Everyone gathered at six o'clock to have drinks and sit around and wait for the opening parade, and Vanuatu marched in at 11 o'clock. 

"That was a long wait, that was five hours."

King is planning to travel to Birmingham with her husband, who has a close personal connection to the host nation but has never been there.

"My husband's father left England 77 years ago, grew up in Australia and then came to Vanuatu," she said.

"I've been very fortunate to make it to Switzerland and The Netherlands with the FIFA leadership programme, but not to England as yet.

"That was the other reason why I was determined that I could do this job, because I think if I go there I might be able to have some closure.

"I could tell people that this was where my name came from.

"Everything's hitting close to home, there was no-one else who was called to do this job, it had to be me because I had so many loose ends I had to tie up."