2016 has been a rollercoaster ride for sports in Samoa.
With Samoa stepping up in the international Sporting Arena, Samoan athletes have accomplished quite a lot in 2016 alone.
As this chapter comes to a close, we look back to the recognise the achievements and lessons learned throughout the year.
This is the good, the bad and the ugly of Sports in Samoa 2016.
The Good - Toa Samoa historic test match in Samoa:
As Rugby League celebrated the journey of 30 years, there was no better way to celebrate the milestone than for Samoa to host the Toa Samoa vs. Fiji Bati match up at Apia Park. This game was the first of its kind to be held in the Pacific and has opened the door for more opportunities to host test matches .
Manu Samoa Sevens win in Paris:
Who could forget the Manu Samoa Sevens thrilling comeback in Paris? The Manu had finally reached the last stage of the H.S.B.C World Series of the Paris leg against Fiji. Fiji came out strong, dominating the first half of the game. After a rousing talk at half time, the Manu picked themselves up in the second half and mounted a paramount comeback. Samoa stunned everyone as they came out with their first victory in the H.S.B.C World Series.
Sir Gordon Tietjens:
They call him the Taskmaster, the legend, but he prefers most people call him Titch. This year, Samoa has wooed one of the most respected Coach’s in Rugby Sevens. After stepping down from New Zealand Head Coach post, many countries were practically lining up on his doorstep trying to get him to come to coach their team. Fortunately, Tietjens chose Samoa.
Although his contract didn’t officially begin until January 1st, Tietjens worked adamantly behind the scene piecing together the Sevens team in Oceania and the HSBC World Series.
Ele Opeloges Silver Medal
Finally it has been confirmed that Samoa will receive its first ever Olympic medal. Years later, Opeloge will finally be able to take the place that is rightfully hers. The official announcement of Opeloge’s medal has come late in the year but is definitely history being written before our very eyes.
Lupesoliai Laaulimalietoa Joseph Parker’s win for Samoa
Samoans around the globe were glued to their televisions screens to witness the historic bout between Lupesoliai La’aulimalietoa Joseph Parker and Andy Ruiz Jr. Although the bout was a close one, Samoan across the globe cheered as their champions hands were raised as the victor. Finally ,a champion we can call our own. It warmed many hearts when he addressed the crowd in Samoan first after his victory as a nod to his heritage.
Then, Lupesoliai brought the belt to Samoa and the nation paused to recognize its first World Champion. Thousands flooded the streets of Beach Road to catch a glimpse of the Champion and his belt. Many were overjoyed to be within feet of the Champion himself and it will be a day that will be recorded in history for Samoa.
This is not the first time Lupesoliai has hoisted Samoa into the limelight. In January this year, Parker brought Rumble in Paradise to Samoa. His fight against Jason Bergman was a thriller. On the eve of his 24th birthday Parker would continue his undefeated streak and claim the title as Samoa’s Hero.
It was as if he completed a full circle, to start the year off in Samoa and finish in Samoa.
Historic haul medal haul from Powerlifting
Powerlifting is a minority sport that doesn’t get enough credit. Their recent historic medal haul from the Asia Oceania Competition is definitely something to celebrate. These Powerlifters have done Samoa proud and deserve to be recognized .
Weightlifting’s meteoric rise
Weightlifting is now the top medal producing sport in Samoa. Ele Opeloge’s Olympic Silver Medal, Iuniarra Sapaia’s Commonwealth Gold Medal, and many Samoan Weightlifters on the pathway to success, weightlifting has come along way in 2016. Weightlifting swept the Samoa Sports Awards with Vaipava Nevo Ioane crowned Samoa’s Sportsperson of the Year and Tuaopepe awarded with Coach of the Year.
Valerie Adams visit
Larger than life, Valerie Adams graced our shores with her humor, wit and dazzling smile. The Olympic gold medalist was here to tour the Pacific in her newly appointed role as Sports Ambassador. She was only here for a couple days, but she really left an impact. She shared invaluable lessons with all of Samoa and openly shared her struggles that have made her the Olympian she is today. She may be Tongan, but many Samoans regard her as our own.
- Losing on Home Turf: It was exciting to see the All Blacks, Georgia and Fiji Bati team play on our turf. The fact of the matter is that, we lost all those games on our home field. The heavily favored All Blacks was expected to win the match , but the Manu made a valiant effort to reign in the powerful All Blacks and did their country proud.
Then Samoa hosted Georgia in mid June. This time Samoa packed a punch against the powerful Georgia. Again, faithful Manu Samoa supporters were ecstatic to see their players play before their very eyes. It’s an entirely different feeling to actually to witness and hear the bone crunching tackles take place before your very eyes. Samoa and Georgia came to a draw of 19-19 but this would not be the last time the two teams collided.
Finally, the most recent loss at Apia Park was the historic Fiji Bati vs. Toa Samoa. Toa Samoa incredibly dominated the first half with the crowd on their side to cheer them on. Then all of a sudden, it was as if their foot slipped off the gas and Fiji began mounting their comeback. Fiji Bati went on to win the match which put a damper on the celebrations, but hey that’s footy.
Ele Opeloge’s silver medal was presented far too late
Almost 8 years later, Opeloge will finally receives what is rightfully hers. The glory has faded and dreams crushed all because countries wanted to cheat their way to the top. Now Opeloge has moved to New Zealand to pursue other ventures.
Failure to qualify for Rio Olympics:
Samoa dismally watched from the sideline and witnessed their brothers from the Pacific make Olympic history for their country. Although, many Samoans congratulated Fiji on the win, there was definitely an underlying stinging feeling of having not even stepping foot on the pitch in Rio that resonated withmany Samoans.
Northern Hemisphere Tour:
After a dismal performance in the World Cup, Samoa was dying to redeem themselves in the Northern Hemisphere Tour. Samoa opened against a strong French side but fell to France and Georgia. Samoa barely secured a win in a close match against Canada.
Dubai and Cape Town Seven’s:
Samoa kicked off the HSBC World Series with a new look, new coach and definitely a renewed sense of hope. Although Tietjens was working in the background, Interim Head Coach Stephen Betham officially held the reigns and guided the Manu Samoa through a rocky start. The Manu came away with three wins in Dubai.
The following weekend, the Manu headed for Cape Town. Each game, the Manu came out swinging, dominating much of the first half and then second half came and the opposing team makes a thrilling comeback. The Manu only came away with one win in Cape Town landing them in the lowest parts of the bracket.
-McGrath vs. The SRU- Failure to qualify for the Olympics, left former Manu Samoa Sevens Coach Damian McGrath without a job. Now unemployed, he decided to take a class action lawsuit against his former employers which is still going on to this day. After his release, McGrath was immediately picked up by Canada Rugby.
Lawsuits can stretch out for long periods of time especially since he is suing the Samoa Rugby Union for a large sum of money. The lawsuit is still ongoing and looks like it will continue on into the upcoming year.
- Disputing Parker’s Win- Yes ,the Parker vs. Ruiz fight was a close call. Yet, hordes of boxing professionals and want to be professional alike slammed the decision to name Parker the victor of the bout. One famed boxing writer Thomas Hauser slammed Parker’s victory and even called it “an embarrassment to the sport of boxing.” Ouch. Many “boxing professionals” also echoed his claim trying to defame Parker for his victory.