P.M. Tuilaepa ends week with gold medal in sweetest moment of Pacific Games
It has been a big week for Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi.
The man responsible for bringing the XVI Pacific Games to Samoa after Tonga pulled out, citing financial difficulties, not only oversaw the success of the first week of hosting more than 5000 visitors to Samoa, he also wore one of his many hats; being an athlete.
Tuilaepa the archer attracted the biggest attention to Tuana’imato when he stepped up for Team Samoa.
And although he might have finished last, and withdrawn from his final competition to allow a younger Samoan to eye his first Pacific Games medal, the Prime Minister’s efforts were not lost on a young girl who has become the darling of the archery community in this Pacific Games.
Jil Walter, a double gold medalist, offered the Prime Minister one of her gold medals, as a gesture of appreciation for his hard work. Jil, the daughter of another gold Games medalist, Muaausa Joseph and Sasae Walter, said the Prime Minister deserves a gold medal.
And so she presented him one of hers. The gesture from the 18-year-old athlete will be noted as one of the sweetest moments in these Games. It wad very heartwarming.
Medal or no medal though, Prime Minister Tuilaepa has created history once more. At 74 years of age, his is the oldest athlete in the competition.
Asked how many bulls eyes he shot, he said that’s not important.
“What’s important is the points you collect,” he said, joking that he landed two “fluke shots” when he started the round.
“It was an attempt of a 75-year-old,” he said laughing, “look at how youthful the competition is.”
At the prospect of winning a medal, the Prime Minister was his humorous best.
“So with these games, you know they always have two or three gold medals that are reserved,” he said. “They give it to me for safekeeping, so I’m not worried, even before these games finish, I’ve already got some gold medals.”
One of the lessons Tuilaepa learnt as an athlete and an administrator during the week was that in archery, Samoa needs more quality competitions.
“Tahiti and New Caledonia have got very good teams. I heard they have competitions all year round, which is an idea we should look at for here too to strengthen our teams,” he said.
China’s assistance, including inviting Samoan athletes to train there prior to the Pacific Games, has been very useful, he noted.
“Our young athletes we sent to China did very well,” he said.
“We have three girls and two boys (in archery) who are very good. My role in the team is to motivate and encourage them. Their job is to bring up our points.”
Asked about Samoa’s efforts as a host nation so far, Tuilaepa said the country has done extremely well given “we only had 17 months to prepare.
“It usually takes three years to prepare for the Pacific Games,” he said.
When Tonga pulled out from hosting, and while many people doubted that Samoa could pull it together in time, Tuilaepa was steadfast.
He said he had his mind fixed on the future of Samoan sports, and the need to give young people opportunities.
“Hosting the Pacific Games is very useful,” he said.
“We have a team of 600 athletes which is very difficult if the Games were held elsewhere. It’s very expensive to send athletes overseas, and often it comes back to the Government to try and fund these teams.
“So for me, this is about giving our young athletes an opportunity to compete at the highest level.
“And this is also why I am here (doing archery), I’m leading by example in trying to motivate our young athletes to get involved.
“When I started out, I often make jokes out of my participation, I would say that I like archery so that I can shoot the opposition party. They all thought I was bluffing until I won a silver medal at the 2007 South Pacific Games.”
Well he’s gone one further this time. He has a gold medal – even if it's a gift from young Jil.
As for the prospects of a third Pacific Games, Tuilaepa said only time would tell.