Elanga Buala, front, has died at 56 ©PNG Athletics

Papua New Guinea's athletics great Elanga Buala, who won three gold medals at the 1983 Pacific Games in Apia in Samoa, has died at the age of 56.

She was confirmed dead at her home in Butibam in her home city of Lae.

At the 1983 Pacific Games, Buala won a remarkable three gold medals in the 200 metres, 400m and the 4x400m relay as well as a silver in the 4x100m relay and a bronze in the 800m.

She is regarded as one of the key people to help grow the participation of women in the sport in Papua New Guinea.

"At this extremely sad time, it is also important to remember the path Elanga has paved," read a statement from the Papua New Guinea Athletics Association.

Buala was also an Olympian and along with Iammo Launa and Barbara Ingiro-Sapea, became the first women to represent Papua New Guinea at the Olympics when she competed at Los Angeles 1984, making the quarter-finals of the 200 metres.

She started her athletics career in 1981 after transitioning from volleyball, winning the 100m at the National Championships that year.

The Sport of Athletics is mourning the loss of Elanga Buala who passed away suddenly at her home in Lae today. Along...

Posted by Athletics PNG INC. on Wednesday, 6 January 2021

From 1981 to 1984, she won seven national titles at 100m, 200m and 400m, winning a total of 13 national medals during her career.

At the inaugural Mini South Pacific Games in Honiara in Solomon Islands, she won the 4x400m relay, as well as silver in the 400m and bronze in the 200m.

In 1982, she competed in the 200m and 400m at the Brisbane Commonwealth Games and then the 1983 World Championships, the same year she took part in the Pacific Games.

Buala's 200m time of 24.82sec at the 1984 Olympics was a national record until 2006, when it was finally bettered by Mae Koime.

This time is still fourth on the all-time list in Papua New Guinea.