Ele Opeloge is Samoa’s golden girl.
And now that she has also secured Samoa’s first Olympic medal, her name will go down in the history books as arguably Samoa’s greatest athlete.
It will be hard to dispute that. From collecting gold medals to inspiring her younger siblings to do the best they can, Ele is a champion in every meaning of the term.
But you wouldn’t know it if you come across the 31-year-old from Lauli’i, Lepa and Vaoala. She is quiet; unassuming and she is a woman of a few words.
What you see though is a committed athlete whose pursuit for perfection and the best results is hard to follow.
Ele is the daughter of proud parents, Po’alaga Opeloge Tovia and Lesila Petunu Opeloge. Her journey as a lifter started at a very young age when her older brother Oloali’i Niu Sila Opeloge introduced her to the sport.
“I didn’t think I was going to be a lifter,” she said.
“I had different hopes and dreams and weightlifting was not one of them but when I got expelled from school, my brother introduced me to the sport.”
Ele wouldn’t say what led to her expulsion from school. But whatever it is, it was probably one of the best things that happened to her.
“My brother would teach me all that he knows about weightlifting in front of our house at Vaoala and I would go with him to his training,” she recalls.
“I would be sitting inside the gym watching him train. More and more, I became interested and this was in 2002."
“I would watch carefully observe how the weights should be lifted and I would learn about the rules of the sport.” It wasn’t until 2004 Ele officially took up weightlifting. But even then, the lessons she had been taught by her brother had given her a good head start."
Ele’s Coach and President of the Samoa Weightlifting Federation, Tuaopepe Asiata Wallwork, saw a future champion in Ele. From a girl selling cabbages and other root crops to make money, Tuaopepe said Ele has come a long way.
“I have known Ele for over fourteen years as her coach,” he said. “She comes from a humble family and her family struggles and she also went through a lot back in the days.”
Tuaopepe said she is very humble.
“She doesn’t talk much, she’s very quiet,” he said.
“Within the Weightlifting Federation I have to say that she is probably the most talented lifter I have come across in the last thirty years.
“She is also the most talented weightlifter in Samoa ever since the Federation was established. She has what is called the natural talent and she is also a hard working person and she’s strong.”
The best thing about Ele, according to Tuaopepe, is her attitude and willingness to learn.
“She is the kind of person who is very humble but when it comes the time for her to perform she is very aggressive,” he said.
“She loves her family, everything she does is for her family especially her parents. She will do anything for them and I know for sure she will sacrifice her life for her parents.”
Since Ele became a weightlifter, Tuaopepe said Ele found her calling.
“Ele didn’t have much education back in the days. I think it would be fair to say that most of her life is weightlifting."
“It was mostly here that she was being educated. We had to do everything it wasn’t only coaching and lifting we did more in terms of education. “Ele has travelled the world and most of all she is very respectful within the Federation and all the young lifters look up to her. But like I said she is not a talkative person. She isn’t proud, she is very humble and down to earth but when it’s time to do the job we can almost be sure that she will come out and produce the results."
Tuapepe went on to say that the aggressive lifter has a soft spot.
“From my perspective I can say that Ele has a soft heart,” he said.
“People see her when she lifts and think that she’s aggressive but she’s only like that when she competes but she is very humble and she’s s soft person."
“My relationship with Ele for over 14 years has been very good and like I said she is one of the backbones of Samoa Weightlifting for the last 10 years."
“She has been used as an example and today many lifters have followed her footsteps and her shadow which is a good thing.”
2006: Gold Medal Commonwealth Games, Gold Medal in the Pacific Rim
2007: Gold Medal South Pacific Games, Gold Medal in the Oceania Championships, Gold Medal in the World Cup
2008: Gold Medal in the Oceania Championship, Olympic Games silver medal in Beijing
2009: Gold Medal Pacific Mini Games, Gold Medal in the Oceania Championship, Gold Medal in Australia and she participated in the World Championship in Korea where she came 6th place.
2010: Gold Medal Oceania Championship, Gold Medal Commonwealth Games.
2011: Gold Medal South Pacific Games in New Caledonia, Gold Medal Oceania Championship, Gold Medal Commonwealth Championship.
2012: Gold Medal Oceania Championship, Gold Medal Commonwealth Championship, 6th place Olympic Games in London
2013: She took some time off for a year
2014: s Gold Medal Oceania Championship, Silver Medal Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
2015: Gold Medal Oceania Championship in PNG and the South Pacific Games