Olympic medal windfall unlikely for Samoa’s heroine

The hopes of Samoa’s Olympic medalist, Ele Opeloge, to secure a financial windfall on the back of her historic achievement appears to have been dashed.

It follows Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s firm stance that the government only awards monetary gifts to Olympic gold medal winners.

Ele initially finished in fourth place in the women's over 75kg division at the 2008 Beijing Games. However, in August, a re-analysis of samples from eight years ago found the silver medallist, Olha Korobka from Ukraine, and bronze medallist, Mariya Grabovetskaya from Kazakhstan, tested positive for banned substances.

Both Korobka and Grabovetskaya have been disqualified, ensuring Ele’s silver medal. The medal arrived last week. 

Ele and the Samoa Weightlifting Federation were hoping the government would provide a monetary reward for it.

But Tuilaepa has again flatly denied the request when he was asked for a comment. He said the government only has awards for first place at the Olympic Games. 

“That’s in the Constitution. For every game, we only award those who win gold medals,” he told the Sunday Samoan.

But Tuilaepa said he is looking forward to part-take in the official Award presentation ceremony for Ele. 

“I’ve seen the medal,” he said. “It was the first time I’ve seen an Olympic medal. I thought I would die without seeing one, but I was wrong." 

“I’ve seen the medal and to me it looked just like a gold medal."

“So I’ve already talked to Tuaopepe (Jerry Wallwork), and they said they are planning an official ceremony to present the medal." 

“I asked him to inform me of whatever plans they have so we (Cabinet) can join the celebration, and I also want to go and tell a novel (fagono) at the ceremony.”

Tuilaepa went on to say that Ele is now in the process of finalizing her citizen papers to stay in New Zealand permanently. 

“I’ve been told as well that New Zealand is asking her (Ele) to lift for NZ in the upcoming Commonwealth games." 

“And you know, right now you should always go to where the money is. You don’t need to worry about anything else, but go to where you benefit from." 

“I heard that she is almost done with her papers to be a citizen of NZ then she can go and represent NZ, and you know, the sooner the better.”

Tuilaepa said it’s not a problem if Ele decides to represent and lift for NZ. 

“If she agrees to go and represent NZ, it will not be a problem. Even if NZ say that she is from NZ, we all know she is Samoan." 

“If they go and say that Ele is from NZ, we will be louder than them and say that she is Samoan.”

Tuilaepa used Lupesolia’i La’auli Joseph Parker as an example. 

“NZ went and say that he was born in NZ but we were louder than them and we kept telling the whole world that he is from A’ufaga." 

“This is because, our news get out to the rest of the world. But for New Zealand, there news only reaches the top of the Mt. Ruapehu and that’s all." 

“But for us, it reaches all the other parts of the world." 

“So we don’t need to worry about anything. If NZ tells a story ten times, then we should tell it a hundred times. And we will leave it to the world (to choose) because the person who is louder and who is constantly telling the story always win." 

“But let us depend on the Observer. This is one newspaper that is very smart at making up lies. So let’s use the Observer to spread this issue to the rest of the world.”

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