If gold medals count, weightlifting should be Samoa’s national sport

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 10 April 2018, 12:00AM

Monday was a golden day for Samoa at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. And on these shores and everywhere else, who wouldn’t be proud? 

Today Sanele Mao and Feagaiga Stowers are the toast of Samoan elite sports.

Having lifted Samoa to the top of the world, the weightlifters can justifiably be proud of what they have achieved. For by doing so, they have continued Samoa’s proud legacy not just in the Commonwealth Games but also in the sport of weightlifting.

It would be remiss of us not to mention the other talented lifters who make up this great weightlifting team. They include our two silver medalists Don Opeloge and Lui Lauititi. Both had chances at gold medals but narrowly missed out.  Whereas Opeloge missed his final two clean and jerk attempts, Lauititi sustained an injury and had to be assisted from the competition platform. 

We wish him the best in his recovery.

Samoa’s fifth competitor, Nevo Vaipava Ioane, took a gamble in an attempt to snatch the gold but he was unsuccessful and very unlucky not to make the podium. 

But then that’s the reality of sport, you win some and you lose some. For Ioane, he can only get better from the experience having had to take on the hard lessons of the Gold Coast.

But that is okay. 

Today in Samoa, it is fair to say the incredible performance by this weightlifting team has once more lifted the spirits of this nation to new heights, as they have often done. Any Samoan would’ve been proud to note that of many nations in the Commonwealth, Samoa was ranked 10th in the competition yesterday thanks to the heroics of these incredible athletes. We are extremely grateful.

It’s true that the Commonwealth is not the Olympics but if we are realistic, the Commonwealth is the one competition where all our sports should really target to earn medals. 

The fact is the Olympics is another level and if we are honest with ourselves, Samoa will always struggle there. But the Commonwealth Games is a competition that is not beyond the reach of our athletes and sporting bodies. 

The weightlifting fraternity has continued to demonstrate that. Of our gold medals at the Commonwealth so far, all have come from weightlifting.

Which is nothing new. Over the years, weightlifting has continued to grow under the leadership of Tuaopepe Jerry Wallwork. 

Having received the mantle from his father, Seiuli Paul Wallwork and other legends of weightlifting in Samoa such Segi Bee Leung Wai, Tuaopepe has taken the sport to another level to now include Samoa’s only Olympic medalist in the form of Ele Opeloge.

In days like these, we like to honour heroes. There is no doubt that our gold medalists in Mao and Stowers are heroes. They deserve the utmost respect and all the rewards they will get.

But if anybody deserves to be recognised once again for his hard work in sports, it has got to be Tuaopepe. We’ve known for a long time now about his passion, commitment and dedication to the sport. 

With limited funding available, he funds most things out of his own pocket. The truth is that many of these weightlifters come from poor families in Samoa. It means the pressure is always on Tuaopepe to clothe, feed and provide transport for his athletes on a daily basis. Some of us have come to recognise the brown Ford truck that transports our weightlifters morning, afternoon and night, six days a week. That is not a small sacrifice. 

Know this folks, for every medal the weightlifters bring from whatever competition, it costs something. For Tuaopepe, that includes his family, business and his quality of life.

But all these things are often ignored and most of us don’t really think about it.

Still Tuaopepe persevered.

Now the story of our newest golden girl, Feagaiga Stowers, on the front page of the newspaper you are reading is a testament of the hard work of Tuaopepe and his team. A few years ago, nobody would have cared about Stowers. She had ended up with the S.V.S.G. and many people would have just turned their backs and walked away.

Not Tuaopepe. He saw potential, he nurtured that potential and who would’ve thought that Stowers would today be an absolute hero in the eyes of this country? Tuaopepe obviously did.

But that’s the story of weightlifting. It is the same story with the Opeloge family, who continue to breed more and more top weightlifters. Had Tuaopepe not cared, many of them would have given up and walked away. Thankfully he didn’t.

Today, this country owes Tuaopepe a huge thank you.

His team’s achievement in the Commonwealth has come as a breath of fresh air amidst the disappointing run of results lately. Indeed, it has been a long pause between drinks in terms of sporting successes.

But thanks to the Samoa Weightlifting fraternity, we can once again fly our flag high with pride and a great sense of nationalism. The best part is that a lot of these weightlifters are young and they have a long way to go.

So here’s another reminder to the government and the people who pull the purse strings in this country: When are we going to stop playing silly politics and start putting some real money behind weightlifting? 

When we talk about results and performances, there is absolutely no doubt that our national sport should be weightlifting. 

Congratulations to all our medal winners so far and here is wishing all the other athletes in Team Samoa the best for the remainder of the Commonwealth Games, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 10 April 2018, 12:00AM

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