The three weightlifters were presented with their uniforms and gifts at a small gathering held by the SASNOC ©SASNOC

Three members of the weightlifting team due to represent Samoa at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games before COVID-19 spoiled those plans have been presented with official uniforms and other gifts by the Samoa Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee (SASNOC).

Athletes based in Samoa were prevented from attending the Games by a Government order which closed the country’s international borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This meant only Samoan athletes based abroad were able to compete in the Japanese capital.

Of the 11 who qualified for Tokyo 2020, eight were located overseas, while three weightlifters were based in Samoa.

Vaipava Nevo Ioane had been due to represent the Oceanian country in the men’s 67-kilogram division, Don Opeloge in the men’s 96kg and Iuniarra Sipaia in the women’s over-87kg.

Instead, the trio this month attended a small gathering which saw them presented with SASNOC’s Olympic uniforms, made by New Balance, as well as other gifts.

The ceremony was attended by SASNOC President Patrick Fepulea'i and Sam Swann, the chief executive of the National Bank of Samoa, which is a long-term partner of the National Olympic Committee (NOC).

Fepulea'i expressed his sadness that the weightlifting team was unable to make the Olympics, believing that Opeloge in particular stood a chance of winning a medal in his weight category.

Only overseas athletes were permitted to represent Samoa at Tokyo 2020 because of the closure of the country's border due to COVID-19 ©Getty Images
Only overseas athletes were permitted to represent Samoa at Tokyo 2020 because of the closure of the country's border due to COVID-19 ©Getty Images

"COVID played a big part in shattering the dreams of our athletes who were based in Samoa," he said.

"Our only team based here were the weightlifting team.

"I know that the athletes who had qualified for Tokyo had trained hard and were working towards peaking in Tokyo.

"To get told that you couldn’t go was gut wrenching for these weightlifters who trained so hard for this moment.

"For those to follow weightlifting closely as I do, the sad thing is we had an opportunity in Don to medal in his weight division.

"From the weights he was lifting in the Oceania Weightlifting Federation League, he would have been guaranteed a silver medal with a very good chance to fight for gold.

"I note that in one previous competition, he has lifted what the gold medallist lifted."

However, the SASNOC President hoped that receiving the gifts offered some consolation.

"The purpose today is to acknowledge your sacrifice of missing out on going to Tokyo and present you with your Olympic gears and kit that you would have given.

"It is a memento for you of the Games that you were selected [for] but not able to go to."

The SASNOC management was also unable to attend the Games, with Chef de Mission Nynette Sass remaining in the capital Apia.

The Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC) chief communications officer Inoke Bainimarama served as Samoa’s proxy Chef de Mission.