Three-time gold medal winner in weightlifting, Uaealesi Funaki, and tennis bronze medalists Ana Taminika and Ela Vakaukamea are dedicating their success in the Northern Marianas Pacific Mini Games 2022 to the people of Tonga who earlier this year endured a volcanic eruption and the ensuing tsunami that it spawned.
“It’s hard to put into words. My people have been through a lot and just a little performance like that…the Tonga people are a very proud people and it’s something for them to cheer about…[Calamities are] a part of life…it is what it is…” said Funaki.
The 24-year-old swept the 96-kg class of the weightlifting competition of the Games after lifting 121 kgs in the snatch and 170 kg in the clean & jerk. His overall lift of 291 kg also gave him a third gold, plus the gold medal in the Oceania Weightlifting Championships, which ran concurrently with the Games.
“It’s a very special moment. I wasn’t expecting it but it’s an honor to put out a performance like that for my country,” said Funaki.
The Auckland, New Zealand kitchen company worker was so dominant in the clean & jerk that he used his third and last lift just to show off by taking on his personal best 170 kg.
“[I did it] because there’s nothing to lose and I was feeling it. [It’s] probably the reason I was asked for drug testing immediately after,” he said.
Funaki also expressed his fondness of the host island and how good they were treated during their stay in the CNMI.
“I love Saipan. It’s hot because it’s winter in New Zealand right now. So it’s a bit hot for me but I love it. It’s a beautiful country with beautiful people. It’s awesome. Accommodations are perfect and I even did a bit of sightseeing after going to the cliffs (Banzai Cliff and Suicide Cliff).”
His message to the Tongan people is “If you believe it, you can achieve it.”
For Ana Taminika and Ela Vakaukamea, winning the bronze in the women’s doubles competition of the tennis event was more than they could’ve hoped for.
“It actually means a lot. We actually stay in New Zealand but getting a chance to represent our little nation is good. Bronze to us is better than nothing. As long as we’re taking home a medal is all that matters.”
The two said they’re dedicating the medal to all their supporters, the people of Tonga, the kingdom of Tonga, and to their friends and family in New Zealand as well.
Taminika and Vakaukamea also liked the CNMI’s tropical climate and said it’s ideal for training all year long.
“It’s amazing and the weather is just outstanding. It’s very nice and hot and very different from New Zealand where it’s almost raining everyday.”
The two have also seemed to adopt the hobbit’s way of eating breakfast as Taminika and Vakaukamea readily admitted that they occasionally snuck for seconds in the morning.
“We just like to eat so get breakfast twice every day. Not sure if it’s allowed but we just go in and out.”
Taminika and Vakaukamea captured the women’s doubles bronze after beating the CNMI’s Asia Raulerson and Isabel Herras, 6-3, 6-0.
The two also denied the CNMI pair a women’s team bronze when they beat them, 6-3, 7-6 (9). The third member of the Tonga women’s team is Peata Fatai.
In all, Tonga finished 10th in the medal tally with four gold and three bronze medals.
The other two medals were won by athletics’ Ata Maama Tuutafaiva in the women’s discus throw (gold) and the shotput (bronze).