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Team American Samoa sends athletes to Asia meet

Meet Pita Fanolua, a student at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) who will be representing American Samoa at the Asian Indoor Games in wrestling.  Fanolua and five other local wrestlers will be competing in various weight categories over a span of two days, Sept. 25-26, in an event where the level of competition, according to ASNOC general secretary Ethan Lake, is comparable to the Olympics.  [photo: courtesy]

Seven local athletes have been selected to represent American Samoa for the first time ever, at the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games set to be held Sept. 17-27 in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, where they will compete alongside their Oceania counterparts and all 45 member countries of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA).

Out of the 21 sports competitions, Team American Samoa will compete in two - Wrestling and Track & Field - as one of the 17 Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC) that will be attending these games for the first  time.

Coverage of the games is sponsored by Carl’s Jr.

The Turkmenistan government, in preparation for the Games, built a world class facility and the first of its kind in the Asia region which costs about $7 billion total.  The Ashgabat Olympic Complex, which has over 30 structures, 15 competition venues, an Athletes Village (accommodation for all athletes and officials), and a Paralympic Rehabilitation Center, is quite unique because every sports venue and relevant facility will be within walking distance.

It will undoubtedly provide Team American Samoa with a realistic Olympic-like experience.

The competition, which kicks off this coming Sunday, will draw participants from some 60 countries – all members of the Asia and Oceania National Olympic committees. These games have been touted as the biggest ever in the history of the Asian Indoor Games.

Chef de Mission for the Games, Herietta Molesi who was in Ashgabat in April for the Chef de Mission seminar said, “It's so nice and convenient to have everything located in the complex. There are shopping centers, hotels, restaurants, cafes, shops, consumer services, a car park, and a monorail in case you don't feel like walking or catching the shuttle.”

According to Molesi, the opening ceremony - to officially open the games - is scheduled for Sept. 17th, and competitions kick off the following day.

American Samoa's track & field athlete, Isaac Silafau, is competing in the 60m and the long jump on Sept 18 & 20 while local wrestlers, Iafeta Vou, Daniel Misaalefua, Pita Fanolua, Zena Iese, Sealiitu Mauga and Nolan Puletasi will be competing in various weight categories on Sept. 25-26.

When asked about what this could mean for Team American Samoa, ASNOC president, Tuiaana Ed Imo said, “This is a rare opportunity for all of American Samoa because it could be the only chance that we get to see this part of the world."

He continued, "From the power point presentation, Turkmenistan is a beautiful place with everything in place for a high level competition such as the Olympic Games. With all the problems that the Olympic Games had in Rio, the whole world should take a look at Ashgabat, Turkmenistan as an ideal place for competition. They have everything in place such as high level athletic facilities, accommodations for the athletes, as well as the VIP personnel."

Imo is grateful to the Asian Indoor Games Committee for "giving us this opportunity to participate in such grand games.”

According to ASNOC General Secretary Ethan Lake, American Samoa is unique and very fortunate to have its own National Olympic Committee and therefore is able to compete under its own flag in any of the Olympic affiliated Games.

"The American Samoa National Olympic Committee (ASNOC) gained member status in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1985," Lake explained. "Since then, the requirements to become a recognized National Olympic Committee Member of the IOC has changed.  New countries requesting membership must now be recognized by the United Nations as a Sovereign Country.  American Samoa and Guam have uniquely remain grandfathered in as members even though we fall under the United States. This is why it is important that we never lose the status as a member.  We are very fortune to be able to represent our nation and subsequently our culture along with only 206 countries in the world.”

All of the local National Sports Federations with sports competing in the Asian Indoor Games were given an opportunity to send athletes to these games. It was wrestling and indoor athletics that had athletes ready to compete.

"Although the wrestlers have already identified their weight categories, we are expecting some last minute moves once they arrive at the Games," Lake said, who added that the level of competition at these Games is comparable to the Olympics.

"Many of the athletes will be Olympians, and Olympic and world medalists. What we are expecting from the Games is experience and exposure for our athletes.  We go to represent American Samoa and showcase some of our raw talent, culture, and values as well as our strengths and challenges,” Lake continued.

Team American Samoa has been able to attend these Games through the support and assistance of the ASNOC and the Turkmenistan government, working with Tai Duseigner and Oceania Travel.  Other local sponsors include Teri Steffany of Island Image Creations, Aunu’u Chen of Aunu’u Sports Store, and Carl’s Jr. American Samoa.

American Samoa’s Ashgabat 2017 team members include track & field hopeful Isaac Silafau, and wrestlers: Daniel Heleta Misaalefua, Iafeta Jeff Vou, Nolan Puletasi, Pita Fanolua, Sealiitu Mauga, and Zena Iese.

The group is departed Monday, accompanied by ASNOC president Tuiaana Ed Imo, ASNOC general secretary Ethan Lake, Chef de Mission Henrietta Molesi, wrestling coach Irene Kane, and press attache, Theresa Custodio Auva’a.