Medals, the Opeloge’s success and beautiful Samoa
It has been a big week for Samoa with the reopening of the borders on Monday after two and a half years seeing the return of commercial flights, their arrival coinciding with the 24-hour visit of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her delegation, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship.
But the sacrifice of blood, sweat and tears for our beloved Samoa, which has continued to put this nation of 200,000 people on the world map over the last 12 years, truly belongs to the Opeloge family when one of their own yet-again shot to stardom at the XXII Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, 23-year-old Samoan weightlifter Don Opeloge smashed the Commonwealth Games record in the men’s 96kg category, to get the country’s first gold medal.
He snatched 171kg and clean and jerked 201kg which gave him an aggregate score of 381kg, enabling him to set three new Commonwealth Games records in a dominant display, which got the crowd transfixed and the broadcast commentators overwhelmed by his performance.
Don’s triumph enabled him to join his uncle Niusila and aunty Ele, who were both gold medalists at the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010.
“At 23 he has upgraded the silver from four years ago to gold in 2022, Don Opeloge continues the dynasty of success in his family,” one of the broadcast commentators said on Wednesday.
“Games record 171 in the snatch, 210 in the clean and jerk [for] 381 and so much more to come and watch out for this man when we get to Paris in 2024.”
Ten out of the 12 Opeloge children and grandchildren have gone on to represent Samoa in weightlifting competitions and Don’s gold medal on Wednesday gives the family three Commonwealth Games gold medalists – this is a rare feat and this nation owes the Opeloge family a debt of gratitude for the sacrifice they’ve made over the years to reach the pinnacle of the sport.
The success of the Opeloge family, irrespective of whether it is at the Pacific Games or the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics, is uniting Samoans at home and thousands more living abroad as part of the diaspora.
Over five years ago, the Samoa Observer launched a fund in recognition of Don’s aunty Ele, who won Samoa’s first Olympic medal in the form of a silver. The setting up of the fund by this newspaper was in response to public outcry, after the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) Administration at that time said monetary rewards were only for gold medal winners.
It is sad that the previous Administration did not drop the bar in terms of rewarding all Samoan medal winning athletes, and the new Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) Government is yet to indicate if it will go one step further and establish a fund for all medal winners, regardless of whether it is gold, silver or bronze.
Whichever way you see it – the three Opeloge medallists who competed at one of the highest levels of international sport to get gold – deserve official recognition from the Samoa Government and should be financially rewarded.
Special mention should also be made of the Samoa Weightlifting Federation President and Coach, Tuaopepe Jerry Wallwork, who played a major role in preparing and training the weightlifters for international competition.
Their success on the international stage has become Tuaopepe’s labour of love over the years, so when Don smashed that Commonwealth Games record early Wednesday morning, his coach was on hand to witness the victory.
Fa’afetai tele lava, Tuaopepe. Your support for Samoa’s weightlifting team, through sunshine and rain, continues to reap dividends for the athletes to excel on the international stage to make Samoa a force to be reckoned with today.
As the XXII Commonwealth Games passes its midway mark and counts down to the ending early next week, we must say Team Samoa has exceeded expectations amongst the 72 competing nations and territories comprising some 5,000-plus athletes and we are proud of the effort put in by all the athletes, team managers, coaches and administrators.
But the success of Samoans is not only grounded in our sporting prowess but also in the world of the arts and entertainment, as we congratulate iconic Samoan singer-songwriter Fa’anana Jerome Grey, who was recognised on Thursday night with a Lifetime Award at the 2022 Pacific Music Awards in New Zealand.
No doubt, there will be an air of camaraderie and festivity when everyone flies into Faleolo International Airport, as the returning athletes together with other returning residents will realise how the reopening of Samoa’s international borders has given everyone a fresh and optimistic outlook for the future.
The special welcome ceremony of dancers and musicians at the airport’s arrival lounge, courtesy of the Samoa Tourism Authority (STA) and the Samoa Airport Authority (SAA), confirms to the world that Samoa will not be held back by the pandemic and is ready to take that leap cautiously but with confidence.
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