Weightlifting braces for impact of coronavirus on competitions
The S.W.A. Samoa Weightlifting Team's final months of competition and preparation before the Tokyo Olympics in July have already been impacted by the global novel coronavirus outbreak, with more disruption to come.
They couldn't attend a competition in Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A. after a cancelled flight, and Samoa Weightlifting Federation president and national coach Tuaopepe Jerry Wallwork is pushing for the postponement of the Oceania Championships, scheduled to begin on the 21st of April in Nauru.
“We’re preparing ourselves, but at the same time I’ve gotta look at the safety of my lifters, their health," Tuaopepe said.
The African and European Championships have both been pushed back from late April to June, while the Asian Championships have also been postponed to a date yet to be determined.
“[The International Weightlifting Federation] is meeting as we speak, and they’re putting pressure on the Oceania and Pan-American Championships to be put off [as well]," Tuaopepe said.
“We’re hoping that it will be postponed, I really don’t wanna travel at this time. There’s so many hiccups here and there, flights have been cancelled and I don’t wanna be stuck in some country.
“We are preparing nevertheless, we’re in full training camp and I think the team will be ready."
He acknowledged the prospect of the Tokyo Games themselves being postponed, or even cancelled outright.
“It is sad in a way, because these athletes have put in a lot in the last four years to try and get to the Olympics, they’ve sacrificed a lot," Tuaopepe said.
“But you’ve gotta look at the safety for the whole world, and especially our country, you’ve gotta make sure that no one comes back with anything."
Samoa currently have three lifters in position to join Don Opeloge in qualifying for the Olympics if they can complete the required six competitions; Vaipava Nevo Ioane, Sanele Mao and Iuniarra Sipaia.
Missing the competition in Ohio is a setback the team will hope to recover from over the coming months.
“For Sanele and June, it actually makes it a bit more difficult now, they’ve gotta compete at Oceania and maybe one more," Tuaopepe said.
Ioane and Mao are both all but locked in to qualify as the top lifter from Oceania in their category, while Sipaia has every chance of automatically qualifying as one of the world's top eight overall.
She is currently seventh in the +87 kg women Olympic ranking list, one ahead of New Zealander Laurel Hubbard.
“It’s very good for us to have two lifters in the top eight," Tuaopepe said.
If those rankings hold until the qualification window closes in June, the pair will both make it to Tokyo, while a third lifter from a different Ocenaia country would take the continental place.
Don Opeloge will at the very least fill the Oceania spot in the 96 kg men category, although he is knocking on the door of the top 10 overall.
“Look out for him, he’ll improve again," Tuaopepe said.
“Then he’ll be right up there, anything can happen.
“By next year I reckon he’ll be a gold medallist at the World Championships."