20 Oct 2021

Meet the Opeloges: Samoa's first family of weightlifting

From Champions of the Pacific, 6:08 am on 20 October 2021

The Opeloge family is sporting royalty in Samoa.

It all started in 1999 when eldest brother Niusila Opeloge took up weightlifting. Three years later he was a Commonwealth Games bronze medallist.

Ele Opeloge followed in the footsteps of her brother and in 2010 the siblings made history by winning gold medals on the same day at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

Ele Opeloge of Samoa competes in the women's +75 kg weightlifting event during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on August 16, 2008.

Ele Opeloge of Samoa competes in the women's +75 kg weightlifting event during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on August 16, 2008. Photo: AFP PHOTO/JUNG YEON-JE

10 of the 12 Opeloge siblings have gone on to represent Samoa in international weightlifting competitions and Ele said the sport was very much a family affair.

"This talent (comes) from God," she explained.

"We like to train and supporting brothers and sisters and teaching for younger sisters and younger brothers - that's why the whole family like and enjoy weightlifting."
 
Ele Opeloge won Samoa's first and to date only Olympic medal at the 2008 Beijing Games.

She originally placed fourth in the women's over 75kg division but was upgraded to the silver medal in 2016 when two competitors were disqualified for drugs.

Her medal finally arrived in the mail a year later and 13 years on from her historic performance, Ele Opeloge is proud of her achievement and what it means for Samoa. 

"Well I'm so happy with that medal from the Olympics," she said. 

"My performance in the Olympics I'm so happy. Thank you Lord - the first time in my life I have a silver medal so I am a humble person and I'm so I'm so happy for the country, Samoa and especially with my family and especially my coach and our team, Samoa Weightlifting. It's not easy for me and I'm so happy."

Samoan weightlifter Ele Opeloge's silver medal(Beijing 2008), her country's first ever Olympic Medal.

Samoan weightlifter Ele Opeloge's silver medal(Beijing 2008), her country's first ever Olympic Medal. Photo: Supplied/ Tuaopepe Asiata Jerry Wallwork

10 of the 12 Opeloge siblings have represented their country in international weightlifting, bringing home six Commonwealth Games medals, a gold medal at the Junior World Championships, numerous Oceania and Pacific Games titles and of course that Olympic Silver medal.

22 year old Don Opeloge is seen as the best chance to go one better than Ele and win Samoa's first Olympic gold medal.

He won a silver medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast and gold at both the 2019 Junior World Championships in Suva and Pacific Games in Apia.

He also won gold in the men's 96kg category at last month's Oceania Weightlifting Championships, which were held virtually because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He was considered a strong contender to win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics, but was denied the opportunity when the Samoa Government ruled local athletes could not attend the Summer Games because of the global pandemic.

Don Opeloge celebrates won two gold medals at the 2019 Junior World Weightlifting Championships.

Don Opeloge celebrates won two gold medals at the 2019 Junior World Weightlifting Championships. Photo: Facebook/Samoa Weightlifting Federation

Don Opeloge said the success of his older siblings is a big motivating factor for him.

"I'm the young one from weightlifting so I want to beat my sisters and brothers. I want to get the gold medal for the Olympics or opportunity for another Games to win the first place," he said.

Don was considered a strong contender to win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics, but was denied the opportunity when the Samoa Government ruled local athletes could not attend the Summer Games because of the global pandemic.

Samoa weightlifting head coach Jerry Wallwork said the rising star would have easily won the silver medal in Japan and probably pushed for gold based on his current performances.

Don Opeloge admitted the pressure and expectation on him from his family, teammates and country could be hard to deal with. 

"It's not easy to get the high place like first place or second place because everyone is going to want to win the gold medal," he said.

"So it's not easy to take the first place from the Games because someone is going to train hard to get the gold, so I try to learn something from that person."

Despite high expectations, Don said he always backed himself to do well.

"Yes, I believe I want to get the first place for gold."

Samoa's Mary Opeloge at the Rio Olympics.

Samoa's Mary Opeloge at the Rio Olympics. Photo: AFP

Mary Opeloge is now retired from competing but won an incredible 10 consecutive Oceania gold medals, as well as a silver medal at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games in the women's 75kg category.

And the Opeloge family dynasty isn't going away anytime soon, with 21 year old Jack Opeloge winning the men's 102kg category at the recent Oceania Senior Championships, while 18 year old Lesila and 16 year old Avatu are also coming through the ranks.