The silver, the secret, and a baby named Birmingham: The emotional journey of Samoan weightlifter Vaipava Nevo Ioane – Michmutters

The silver, the secret, and a baby named Birmingham: The emotional journey of Samoan weightlifter Vaipava Nevo Ioane

Samoan champion weightlifter Vaipava Nevo Ioane had a heavy heart when he boarded his flight to Birmingham.

The 34-year-old was carrying a sporting secret he wasn’t sure when or where to reveal.

But even then, something much bigger was on his mind.

On top of the secret he would later reveal to his coach and teammates, his wife was pregnant and would give birth any day.

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Nevo with his wife and three children before heading to Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games.(Supplied)

She had no support back home in Apia.

Nevo had spent his last days on Samoan ground finding a babysitter to look after their three young children for when the newborn would arrive.

The thought of his wife needing him while he was on the other side of the world was nearly too much to bear.

“All I could do was pray,” Nevo said.

On top of the pressure of the secret he was keeping, and the concern for his family, Nevo also knew he had to deliver for his country and his coach, Tuaopepe Jerry Wallwork.

He had to bring home a gold medal.

Coach Jerry believes the Samoan government robbed his weightlifting team by blocking travel to the Tokyo Olympics because of COVID.

He still bristles at the mention of the whole saga.

“We were denied the opportunity to go to the Tokyo Olympics. Our government shut down our borders. We had a realistic chance to win a medal,” he said.

“A missed opportunity like that doesn’t come around many times. So we’re going to Birmingham to make a statement.”

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The Samoan weightlifting team for the Commonwealth Games, with coach Jerry Wallwork second from right.(Supplied)

The statement nobody saw coming

With competition in full swing, Nevo easily progressed to the top two for his 67kg weight category.

For gold, he would have to beat 19-year-old Indian lifter Jeremy Lalrinnunga.

“We knew it was going to be tough, especially from the Indian,” coach Jerry said.

“He had a stronger snatch, but we had a stronger jerk.”

Nevo performs a snatch in Birmingham, eventually claiming silver behind his Indian opponent.

Nevo’s second attempt at the snatch was a personal best at 127kg.

His second go at the clean and jerk was a Commonwealth Games record, at 166kg.

Things were looking good, but tight. He would have to go to 174kg to win the gold, and to lift an 8kg increase would be considered akin to a miracle.

“We started with 163kg to secure bronze, then got 166kg to secure silver but we had the job of jumping to 174kg to win gold,” Jerry said.

“It was close but it didn’t pull off.

“But I got to hand it to Nevo, he fought it all the way. From the snatch to the last jerk … it was one of the best performances of his career.”

When Nevo’s 174kg failed jerk crashed to the floor, he missed out on the gold but would take home a silver medal for Samoa.

And then it was time to make a different statement.

While still on the stage, he took off his shoes and placed them neatly together on the lifting platform.


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