The man who saw diamond in rough
It is often said that behind every strong man, there is an even stronger woman.
In the case of Samoa’s heroine and Olympic medallist, Ele Opeloge, the roles are reversed.
Before she became the elite athlete we know and love today, she was just a girl from Vaoala who loved weightlifting.
Even in her budding stages of becoming an athlete, one man saw the potential, the “diamond in the rough.”
He is her coach and President of the Samoa Weightlifting Federation, Tuaopepe Asiata Wallwork, who Ele has consistently hailed as a monumental figure on her way to the medal.
He recalls the moment he knew she would be someone who would go far.
“It was back in 2004-2005,” he said. “She walked into the gym and started lifting right away and I knew she had it. Often times, it takes people a while to get the lift right. But she had the finesse of someone lifting for months even though she just started.”
And that was it from there.
The two connected and never looked back.
But the road was not easy, Tuaopepe said.
The Coach and trainee experienced many battles along the way. Some were physical, others emotional and mental.
Tuaopepe vividly recalls the fateful day of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“We had the bronze medal, it was in our hands but it was just that last lift, she must’ve shaken a little bit and the weight came down. It was a disappointment because we knew we had it, it could’ve been a bronze medal on the spot.”
After practically tasting the chance to be on the podium to being reduced to fourth , that experience could effect anyone’s psyche and any lesser athlete would have given up then.
But Tuaopepe refused to think that fourth place at the 2008 Olympics was Ele’s swan song.
He told her after the 2008 Olympics, “I looked at Ele and realistically she had what was needed to win medals at the Olympic games. After her performance you could see she could win.”
“I said to Ele, you at the next Olympic Games can win a medal, you can even win a silver medal! You need to aim for that and target that and work for that.”
Thus the two used what seemed like a disappointment at the time to rise above and dominate the weightlifting stage, proudly bearing Samoa’s flag everywhere they went.
“The Common Wealth Games 2010, was the highlight of her career after winning the Gold medal for Samoa.”
“But we came back and we had another target, which was the Commonwealth Games and the target was to win the gold medal, Samoa’s never had a gold medal. That was the target for the whole team, but for Ele especially.
“We settled down and she kept winning gold medals. We went to the World Champion, she came fourth. “
“So that was our target and we got to the Commonwealth Games and unfortunately we had a few injuries here and there and her health, she got sick a couple of times and it affected our performance in the 2012 Olympic Games.”
Which brings us to present day, where Ele is getting ready to finally receive what is so rightfully hers, the Olympic Silver Medal from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
As the Samoa Observer drums up support from the country, Tuaopepe says he is glad to see Samoa’s athlete gain support and any contribution is appreciated.
“What we do as a sport and as athletes, we do it as a matter of pride to represent our country and to win.”
He said,“ All I say is if you’re giving any financial support, we’re very grateful and we say thank you. What ever you can give, but what we do is for the country. We do it for the flag and to represent Samoa at the highest level.”
“On producing those results and there is a financial reward, we say thank you and are very appreciative. I'm sure on behalf of Ele, she would say the same thing. I would like to say thank you to the country for whatever they can give or spare to help Ele and to recognize this silver medal.”
How to contribute to the Samoa Observer - Ele’s Fund
Here is your chance to give something back to Samoa’s Olympic heroine. The Samoa Observer has set up a Fund for Ele Opeloge to honour her achievement of winning Samoa’s first Olympic medal, a silver medal, from the Olympic Games in Beijing, China in 2008.
• We now have an account at B.S.P. Samoa Observer - Ele's Fund account number there is: 2000935599
• Take your donation to the Samoa Observer Apia office or the Samoa Observer Vaitele headquarters, record your name and details and get a receipt.
• Take your donation directly to the Bank of the South Pacific, Apia or Salelologa, record your name and details and get a receipt.
• Ring us about your donation if you have an individual, group, class, school or business and you would like newspaper coverage, please.
Marj 7516766 or Salema 23078