Don Opeloge of Samoa celebrates winning the men’s weightlifting 96kg at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Photo / Getty Images
The Commonwealth Games are officially over – and six Pacific countries travel home with medals, including a gold medal for one and a historic first medal for another.
A total of 13 medals were earned by team members from Samoa, Fiji, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Nauru and Vanuatu.
The most successful Pasifika nation at this year’s event in Birmingham was Samoa, whose athletes won a total of five medals, four silver and one gold.
Samoa: 1 gold, 4 silver
Weightlifter Don Opeloge will return to Samoa with the prized gold medal he won in the men’s 96kg category with a total lift of 381kg – a new record at the Commonwealth Games.
He also set new game records for snatch (171 kg) and clean and jerk (381 kg).
The Opeloge surname is well known in weightlifting circles and particularly in Samoa where the family is known for their love and passion for the sport.
Don Opeloge, 23, is following in the footsteps of siblings Niusila and Ele Opeloge, who made history at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, where the brother and sister duo both won gold in their respective weightlifting categories.
Three other medals for Samoa, all silver, were won in weightlifting.
Opeloge’s younger brother, Jack Opeloge, won a medal in the 109 kg category; while Feagaiga Stowers made it big in the women’s 87 plus category – and took a silver medal at her event.
Weightlifter Vaipava Nevo Ioane won silver in the men’s 67 kg category.
The more precious prize, however, was back home in Samoa, where his wife had given birth to a son a few days earlier, who was then named after Birmingham in honor of his father’s success at the Games.
Samoa’s last silver medal went to heavyweight boxer Ato Plodzicki-Faoagali, who made it to the final against local favorite Lewis Williams earlier this week.
This is the 23-year-old’s second Commonwealth Games medal after winning a silver at the 2018 Games on the Gold Coast. In 2019 he won gold at the Pacific Games in Apia, Samoa.
Historical first medal for Niue: 1 bronze
Niueans around the world celebrated their first-ever Commonwealth Games medal – a bronze medal won by boxer Duken Tutakitoa-Williams.
Even before he stepped into the ring in the semifinals, there was joy and excitement; Win or lose, his placement meant he was guaranteed a medal – the small Pacific nation’s first medal since it first appeared at the tournament in 2002.
Tutakitoa-Williams, who hails from the village of Liku, Niue, won the New Zealand cruiserweight title earlier this year and was only selected a few months ago to join the Niuean team heading to Birmingham.
Fiji: 2 silver, 2 bronze
The Fiji team took home four medals this year – two silvers and two bronzes.
The Fiji Rugby Sevens team – the Flying Fijians – lost 31-7 to South Africa.
They joined the Fiji women’s team, which won silver after their final with Australia.
Weightlifter Taniela Rainibogi contributed to the medal list with her bronze win in the men’s 96 kg category; shares the podium with Samoan weightlifter Don Opeloge.
Pacific sportsmanship was on display during the medal ceremony when Opeloge removed his traditional Samoan ula fala (pandanus key chain) and promptly slipped it around the neck of his Fijian friend.
Fiji’s second bronze medal was won by featured athlete Naibili Vatunisolo, competing in the women’s F42-44/61-64 category.
It was a memorable game for Vatunisolo, who was also one of the Fijian team’s two flag bearers.
Papua New Guinea: 1 silver
Papua New Guinea’s only silver medal was won by weightlifter Morea Baru, who showed great strength lifting 273 kg in the men’s 61 kg category.
He is no stranger to major competitions; after winning silver at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games four years ago. He has also won the gold medal at the Pacific Games twice, as well as a silver medal.
Nauru: 1 bronze
A 19-year-old weightlifter, Maximina Uepa, is the sole medalist for the nation of Nauru.
The Uepa competed in the women’s category up to 76 kg and won the bronze medal in this category.
Despite her young age, she has an impressive resume – winning the gold medal at the 2019 Pacific Games and the silver medal at the Commonwealth Championships in Apia that same year.
Coming from a family of powerlifters, she entered her first international youth competition at the age of 12.
Vanuatu: 1 bronze
Volleyball players and duo Sherysyn Toko and Miller Pata made their small country of Vanuatu proud as they defeated the New Zealand team to take home the bronze medal in the women’s beach volleyball competition.
It was a tight bronze playoff as the Kiwis went through the first set 21-10.
But the Vanuatu girls didn’t want to give up and eventually won the third set and then a tiebreaker 15-10.