Tupa’i Faleomavaega Vaovai Tupu
It is with much sadness that we advise that a member of our Oceania Family, Tupa’i Faleomavaega Vaovai Tupu, recently passed away in Samoa.
Affectionately known by many as Vai, Vaovai’s passion for running and athletics started at a very young age when he was still at school, inspired by the success and popularity of the annual national road relay competition (42km) from Mulifanua to Apia during the Independence Day celebrations in the 1970s, 1980s & 1990s. He was a member of his village Magiagi’s and Avele College road relay teams.
His passion in middle and long distance running continued when he attended Avele College in the late 1970s/early 1980s where he won several National Samoa Secondary Schools Athletics Championships titles in 800 & 1500m.
His success at the national school level led to his selection to represent Samoa at the 1983 South Pacific and 1985 Mini South Pacific Games.
Perhaps his greatest achievements in athletics were in coaching. He loved to help athletes from his village, Magiagi, Avele College, Church Youth athletes and practically any aspiring young athlete who would ask for his help. He was instrumental in the on-going development and success of the annual National Samoa Church (EFKA) Athletics Championships throughout the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s.
He was key figure in Athletics Samoa’s (formerly Western Samoa Amateur Athletics Association) coaching development when he became Samoa’s national coach in 1994.
A number of Samoan based athletes past and present who went on to shine at national, regional and international competitions owed much of their success to Vaovai’s passion and dedication as a coach, none more so than Aunese Curreen (aka Setefano Mika) who was his star athlete. Some of the other athletes who shined under his coaching are Siologa Viliamu, Iulio Lafai, Si’u Tutaia, Eddie Ma’aolaoletalalelei and Fiddo Scanlan.
Vaovai was a travelling coach for the Samoan team so overseas based athletes saw him as a true role model and mentor and he is remembered fondly by past athletes Shaka Sola, Faleono Seve, Serafina McKenzie, Fagamanu Sofai, Avele Tanielu, Kasandra Vegas, Tone Betham, Benetti Schwalgr, Quintin Dobson-Mauala, Margret Satupa’I, Ah Chong Sam Chong, Steven Lasei, Sopolemalama Tuitama, Emanuele Fuamatu and current ones; Alex Rose and Jeremy Dobson. To quote Shaka, “Vaovai was a true leader and was always dedicated to the athlete, putting their needs first. He was a great friend who will be sorely missed by many”.
Vaovai remained as Athletics Samoa’s national coach right through until his health no longer allowed him to do so. He coached Samoa athletics at a number of Pacific Games/Mini Games and Oceania Championships. During this time the number of medals won by Samoa in athletics was at an all-time high.
He was awarded an Oceania Athletics Association, Merit Award in 2015 for his services to athletics in Samoa and across the Oceania region, an award he deeply deserved.
Former Athletics Samoa President/Oceania Council Member, Lalau Willie Fong had the pleasure of working alongside Vaovai at Athletics Samoa. “He was a good athlete, a great coach to all the athletes who had the benefit of working with him and above all a straight talking and down-to-earth friend and brother.”
Athletics Samoa have lost a true champion whose passion and dedication to the sport of athletics was truly remarkable. He will be sorely missed.
We send our deepest condolences to his wife Aiga, children and family. May Vaovai rest in love and peace USO.
Oceania Athletics Association acknowledges Laulau Willie Fong and Shaka Sola for their contributions to Vaovai’s Tribute.