IN a story reminiscent of the Jamaican bobsleigh team competing in the 1988 Winter Olympics, an athlete from Tonga has now qualified for the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea for cross country skiing.
Taekwondo fighter Pita Taufatofua first grabbed the world’s attention at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil, where he carried the Tongan flag bare-chested and oiled-up in a traditional costume.
The 34-year-old started learning to cross country ski a little over a year ago, initially learning the sport on rollerblades in Australia, where he lives. Snow is unheard-of in the tiny Pacific nation of Tonga.
Miracle? 😲Former taekwondo Olympian from Tonga Pita Taufatofua qualified for #PyeongChang2018 proving hard training ⛷️ pays off!
Posted by Olympic Channel on Sunday, January 21, 2018
Announcing his qualification for Pyeongchang on Sunday, Taufatofua posted: “On the last day of my Olympic qualification, at the end of the world, I said a little prayer before my race and then a miracle happened!”
After competing in Rio, the athlete announced his intention to become Tonga’s first cross country skier at the end of 2016. “What can I do to inspire more people to live an active, a happy, fulfilled lifestyle? I thought, I have to do something impossible,” he said.
Taufatofua started a Go Fund Me online fundraiser last November to help Tonga get to the Winter Games, which has so far raised more than $15,000. “We will swim there if we have to,” declared a video promoting the campaign.
BIG UP 🙌 for @pita_tofua 👏 well done, well deserved 🙏 first olympic qualification on skis for Tonga 🏝🇹🇴 @pyeongchang2018…
“We sacrificed everything to be here. Financially I’m in the worst position ever but I’m the happiest ever,” he told the Olympic Channel.
“People don’t see the hard work that goes behind they just see the shiny guy that walks with the flag,” said Taufatofua. “But so much hard work was put in by not just me but the whole team, a whole country, everyone that supported us, and we made it! We are going to the Olympics.”
Tonga’s only previous representative at a Winter Olympics was Fuahea Semi, otherwise known as Bruno Banani, in Sochi four years ago.