Homecoming fitting for a humble champion
As a homecoming for weightlifter and Samoan’s first Olympic Silver medallist, Ele Opeloge; it had everything.
There were banners, ulas, family members both old and young, supporters, friends and neighbours and the media.
There was also bemused onlookers waiting to meet other passengers who walked out of the Arrivals area at Faleolo Airport who were met by the sound of joyous singing and chanting only heard in Samoa.
“Who was this ‘champ’” they must have been thinking?
As the plastic strips in the Arrivals doorway were swept aside to reveal another person who was not Ele, there was almost an audible sigh from the waiting crowd.
But finally she was there.
With a huge smile and in a Pacific-blue puletasi, followed by her husband and children, dressed in matching fabric and looking slightly wide-eyed at the reception and the cheers from the crowd.
After family rushed forward with ulas until only the top of her head was visible, others waited respectfully at a distance.
The love, admiration and respect for our top athlete was obvious.
Eventually, Ele made her way to be greeted by Samoa’s sporting hierarchy - the S.A.S.N.O.C president, Fepuela’i Patrick Fepulea’I; her coach Tuaopepe Jerry Wallwork and the C.E.O of S.A.S.N.O.C, Fa’amausili Taiva Ah Young.
She was home.
In presenting her medal, Fepulea'i congratulated Ele.
“Thank you for all the hard work,” he said. “You’ve made it!”
Ele was more emotional than jubilant.
But she said it was not about her. It is about Samoa.
“It’s not about me winning this medal,” she said. “This is about me honouring the people of Samoa for their support and giving this back to them for all they have done for me.
“This is the moment that I’ve been waiting for a very long time.
“I’m just so humbled, I’m grateful, I’m excited and I’m happy to be home. I want to thank so many people who have supported me along the way.
“I want to thank my coach Tuaopepe Jerry Wallwork, the Samoa Weightlifting Federation, the government, and most importantly those who have supported me in this journey.
Ele said the medal is the culmination of years of training.
“There was fear, hopelessness after the Olympics when I just lost out but knowing there’s a God in heaven and people who are always behind in prayers have made me the person I am today.”