Samoa PM draws bow for his country

By John Andrews

In a seemingly unprecedented accomplishment in modern international sport, an elected leader will represent his country in the South Pacific Games.

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, the Prime Minister of Samoa, will seek glory on the archery range when his country hosts the games, beginning in Apia next Saturday.

He'll be one of about 4500 athletes from 22 countries around the region competing in 33 sports over two weeks.

Non-elected rulers and royalty, including the Sultan of Brunei (shooting), Princess Anne (equestrian) and members of the Spanish royal family (sailing), have been to the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, but Olympic officials could not recall any other elected leaders who have competed in international events.

Tuilaepa took up archery only five months ago and is now ranked second in Samoa in the compound bow discipline. His decision to take part was prompted by a call from local sports administrators for as many Samoans as possible to compete so the country could be represented in every event.

"I thought it was a good opportunity to show to our young men and women that even the leaders are prepared to act to give examples," said Tuilaepa.

A keen golfer and gymnasium enthusiast, the Prime Minister had several options. He's patron of Samoa's baseball, softball and bowling to boot. But, for Samoa, archery was a "new ball" game.

"The sport has special appeal for me because it does not make as much demand on my time compared with other sports," he said.

With his son Oscar, a reserve for the team, Tuilaepa practises daily.

Asked if he believed he might win a gold medal, he said: "I already have a gold medal in my mind. Simply by participating as leader of this country, that is a gold medal in itself."

And what does Tuilaepa think as he focuses on the target? A glint in his eye, he replies: "I think one Opposition down and five to go."

While visiting Samoa last weekend, Vanuatu's Prime Minister Ham Lini witnessed his host's archery prowess.

Tuilaepa demonstrated his skills by scoring a bullseye from 50 metres, then joked that, even though his visitor came from a world where bows and arrows were common weapons, Samoans were fast catching up.

Chris Peteru, the games communications co-ordinator, said Tuilaepa's archery achievements in preliminary competition spoke volumes for his natural talent.

Teams have begun arriving in Apia. Officials are confident they can cope with the influx of athletes and about 1500 officials.

* Regardless of how well the Samoan team perform, archery seems an expensive sport. Each arrow costs them US$50 ($74).

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