Tonga flag-bearer chases Winter Olympics dream

Left: Tonga's flag-bearer Pita Taufatofua, who stole the limelight at the Rio Olympics opening ceremony, plans to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics as a cross-country skier. Above: Taufatofua straps on skis at Bear Mountain, California, during the
Taufatofua straps on skis at Bear Mountain, California, during the shooting of a video for the Olympic Channel.PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ PITA_TOFUA

BEAR MOUNTAIN (California) • Pita Taufatofua, the sculpted taekwondo fighter who caused a sensation when he carried Tonga's flag bare-chested at the Rio Olympics earlier this year, has announced plans to go to the 2018 Winter Games as a cross-country skier.

"I spent my whole life chasing my dream and that was to become an Olympian in 2016," the 33-year-old said of his desire to compete in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"I'm going to be taking my Olympic dream one step further. My goal is to let people see if I can do it, they can do it. The goal is to hunt down that Olympic medal at the 2018 Olympics."

Taufatofua, whose oiled-up, shirtless performance was one of the highlights of the Rio Games opening ceremony, announced his desire to become Tonga's first male Olympic cross-country skier in a video for the Olympic Channel, a digital platform launched by the International Olympic Committee in August.

 Tonga's flag-bearer Pita Taufatofua, who stole the limelight at the Rio Olympics opening ceremony, plans to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics as a cross-country skier. Above: Taufatofua straps on skis at Bear Mountain, California, during the
Tonga's flag-bearer Pita Taufatofua, who stole the limelight at the Rio Olympics opening ceremony, plans to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics as a cross-country skier. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

In Rio, Taufatofua lost his opening taekwondo bout to Iranian Sajjad Mardani by a score of 16-1.

Recent athletes who competed in both the Summer and Winter Games include American Lolo Jones (athletics and bobsleigh), Dutch Laurine van Riessen (cycling and speed skating) and Czech Eva Vrabcova-Nyvltova (athletics and cross-country skiing).

Tonga, a Polynesian kingdom of more than 170 islands, is better known for its rugby prowess.

The snowless, tropical nation made its Winter Games debut at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, with its only representative, Bruno Banani, finishing 32nd out of 39 in the men's luge event.

Taufatofua's bid to compete in a winter sport is reminiscent of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, where Michael "Eddie the Eagle" Edwards competed as Britain's first Olympic ski jumper, and the Jamaican bobsled team entered for the first time.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2016, with the headline 'Tonga flag-bearer chases Winter Olympics dream'. Print Edition | Subscribe