Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre in the Gold Coast, Australia, came to a standstill twice while the Samoan flag was hoisted.
It was a proud moment for all Samoans alike, as Sanele Mao and Feagaiga Stowers, stood among the world’s best lifters to receive their gold medals from the Commonwealth Games.
Mao won the final of the 105kgs men’s division with Stowers overcoming all odds to win the +90kgs Women’s division.
Samoa’s newfound heroes returned home yesterday to a low key welcome at Faleolo International Airport where families had gathered to embrace their success.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer, the gold medalists shed tears of joy as they recalled their journey towards the Games. It wasn’t easy.
But one thing is for sure, without God, it wouldn’t have been possible.
“First of all, I would like to thank almighty God that we have made it home safe and his protection upon us while we were at the Games,” said the 32-year-old Mao, who hails from Sasina, Falealupo and Vaitele-fou.
“I was fortunate to win a gold medal and that is for Samoa. The medal is for every Samoan around the globe."
“On that note, I would like to acknowledge the support from parents, my dad and my mother and my whole family who uplifted my games in their prayers."
“It wasn’t easy at all at the Commonwealth Games, given so many powerful countries we competed together, but I was grateful to win Samoa’s first ever 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medal."
“All glory goes back to God, he turned the impossible into possible.”
This is Mao’s first gold medal in such an event.
“I have competed in other international events in the past years, and I’ve also won gold, silver and bronze medals."
“But to me, I think the Commonwealth Games was the most significant sporting event of them all given the standard of competition between 71 commonwealth countries."
“I just want to thank the Lord again for blessing me with his strength, which helped me to win this medal.”
Mao shared it was fortunate that he qualified to represent Samoa in the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
“But it was a poor performance, so to win gold medal for this year’s Commonwealth means everything to me, my family and my country. The only thing I wanted when I went to the stage was that medal.”
With tears, Mao shared his family’s struggles and his desire to provide the best for his family were two things that ringed in his mind when he walked onto the stage.
“I have been praying ever since and kneeling to God for his blessings so I can help provide for my family. My family is very poor and I have been praying to God to bless me so I can give back and provide for them, and I thank the Lord that he has answered my prayers.”
So what’s next?
“I am now putting my focus towards the upcoming Pacific Games next year. We will be hosting the event and we should be winning more gold medals on that one as well."
“But my main focus going forward now is to be able to represent Samoa in the upcoming Olympic Games. That’s the biggest competition that I am now looking forward to, and to win a medal.”
Compared to the 2014 Games where the team never won a single medal, Mao said their small team of six at this year’s Games had to end that drought.
“The facilities and equipment used by the Samoa National Weightlifting Federation in the build up to the tournament is reflected in the team’s achievements."
“The results as well reflected the dedication of the weightlifters and coaches in preparing the team."
The former bodybuilder never dreamt of representing Samoa in an international event as a young boy.
“I was just like every other Samoan kid who plays all sports like volleyball, rugby. It wasn’t until a friend from New Zealand approached me and introduced me to bodybuilding."
“From there I realised that I had potential in making my country proud through sports."
“When I first joined the weightlifting team, a few big names known in the sport were still there, and I was fortunate to learn from them."
“I have always possessed the ability to lift, but I lacked in the technical side of the game, so I have been learning ever since up until now, but I know God has put together all the technique and the ability for me to lift well in all my games."
“Again, I just want to thank my parents, my family, friends and the whole of Samoa for their support."
“We are one. When our flag was raised in the stadium, it wasn’t just for me it was for all the Samoans. "
And especially that it’s my first Commonwealth Games medal; this win is for Samoa, and my family.”
Sharing the sentiment, Stowers, 17, said without God’s love and protection, she couldn’t have done what she did for Samoa during the Games.
“I am overwhelmed and excited with this achievement. It is not only for me, but for my family, my country and also my team of weightlifters.
“I had never thought that I would ever be in this situation, winning gold medal in a Commonwealth Games.
“The competition itself was difficult, especially competing against Laurel Hubbard from New Zealand in my women’s division.
“It was really hard given all the competitors had previous experience of such international completion.
“Even my coach and our team could not believe that I could win this gold medal because of the tight contest.
Stowers shared with tears: “I was also in that position that every lifter was better than me, but one thing that kept me going through the competition was sticking to my game plan and making sure that I am giving my best in all my attempts.”
Next on her list is to represent Samoa again in the next Commonwealth Games as well as the Olympic Games.
“There were no challenges in the lead up to the Commonwealth, we just had to train hard and set our focus straight.
“I worried in the beginning when I found out that I was going up against Hubbard.
“I knew that it wasn’t right, but I still have to do it no matter what. I wasn’t going to run from the competition but instead had to face whatever obstacle that was in front of me, and I know it was God’s plan for me to win this gold medal for Samoa.”
The Games was also a life learning curve for the young weightlifter.
“What I have learnt from this Commonwealth competition so far is to not run away from challenges; God will always make things possible.
“I have also learned that I have to train hard for the Olympic Games and the next Commonwealth Games.”
For the young aspiring weightlifters she shared: “I encourage young girls who are willing to take this sport as a career path, that it demands hard work, dedication, respecting the coach and being humble.”
Stowers acknowledged the support of all Samoans, her family and friends.