Samoa Sailors Eroni Leilua and Vaimo’oi’a gearing up to make a mark on the global stage at the Olympic Games in Paris.

The two have qualified to compete in the International Laser Class Association (ILCA) 7 and ILCA 6 in sailing and will compete in the upcoming Olympics.

The two will be up against some very experienced sailors who are way better than resourced but this has not deterred them from taking a shot at the medals.

Despite being overseas, the two sailors train relentlessly to showcase their skills and represent their nation at the prestigious event.

The two sailors have deep roots in the Samoa Yacht Club, where they first set sail as young enthusiasts. Their determination, perseverance, and love for the sport have propelled them to the forefront of Samoa’s sailing scene.

Raema von Reiche, the sailing team manager and assistant to the Chef de Mission of the Samoa Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee (SASNOC), expressed her pride and spoke of the team’s journey.

Having been the coach for Leilua and Ripley when they were only eight years old, she reminisced, “I was very proud, really proud, because it’s always really hard when you spend a lot of time training. I mean, I’ve been coaching for 25 years. They joined the junior sailing programme and learned how to sail from there.”

She highlighted that over the years, people have left the yacht club but Leilua and Ripley have always returned to represent Samoa.

The manager acknowledged the invaluable support of Chris Russell, the head coach for the two Olympians, who is instrumental in the team’s preparations. Speaking about Russell, she mentioned, “He has been really good. He’s been doing a lot of online coaching for both Eroni and Vaimo’oi’a.”

“Chris is going to New Zealand to run a training clinic with Eroni for one week, and we’re pulling in Elizabeth Rash, our junior sailor,” said von Reiche.

The team is not limiting their reach to Samoan athletes, as they work to empower other sailors in Oceania such as Vili Ratului from Fiji.

Von Reiche stated, “We opened the door to Oceania, so we’re not like, ‘Oh no, this is our training,’ if you’ve got a sailor, bring them down.”

Vaimo’oi’a, in particular, has shown exceptional determination amidst challenges, said Von Reiche. Despite a lack of opportunities for sailing races in Samoa, she has made impressive strides in her sailing journey.

Von Reiche shared, “You can see from her results and her overall world ranking was getting better and better. So they invited her to go to Paris. So she’s not a qualified athlete, but she’s going as an invitation,” said Von Reiche.

“Hopefully, that’s going to inspire her to do another quad,” added Von Reiche.

For both athletes, the road to the Olympics has not been without obstacles, but their unwavering dedication and remarkable improvement have earned them recognition.

As they continue their rigorous training, they remain hopeful for Samoa’s support in their sporting endeavours.

“Both of them have indicated to me that if Samoa can support them financially and provide them with funding for training, they will sign up for another four years for LA,” added von Reiche.

The Samoan sailing team will gather in Marseille, France, to intensify their training with their coach and scout the competition area for two weeks before heading to Paris for the Olympics’ grand opening ceremony.

With their sights set on the upcoming competition, Leilua and Ripley are poised to make Samoa proud on the international stage.