PyeongChang 2018

Tongan Snow Warrior Pita Taufatofua calls on his Tongan Sea Warrior Heritage at PyeongChang 2018!

Pita Taufatofua Jnr shows us that 'nothing is impossible' and as he continues be a wonderful ambassador for Tonga and Tongan sport!

Back in 2016 Pita literally 'stole the Rio show' - when he proudly marched in the Opening Ceremony as a Taekwondo athlete in his Tongan National dress - a wrap-around Tupenou - plus a well-tuned 6 pak chest - covered only in coconut oil.
He became an immediate world-wide sensation and made Tonga (and coconut oil for that matter) one of the most searched subjects and literally crashed the Internet.

Tonight in the PyeongChang 2018 Opening Ceremony, Pita with be the 'Tongan Snow Warrior'!

It is no surprise given Pita's rich Tongan ancestry going back 4 generations to the brave sea warriors from the island group of Ha'apai Tonga - who almost single-handedly conquered Lau Island Group of Fiji - around the same time as the Bligh's famous Mutiny on the Bounty took place in Ha'apai!

Pita himself is on the world stage with over 100,00 Twitter and Instagram followers and equal as many likes on Facebook.

Not to worry that he broke some Protocols with his attire - or lack of it - at Rio, his preparedness to be different and publicly show his passion for his country made him a superstar.

Now that enthusiasm to represent his county has driven him to greatness again. For Pita Taufatofua did the 'impossible' and qualified as a Winter Olympian for cross-country skiing - in the space of a little over a year and having never ever seen snow before.

And not just in any sport but the very hard, physically demanding and challenging event of Cross Country skiing. Indeed a highly competitive discipline - where athletes train from a very young age to be able to master it.

Pita decided that after Rio he needed a new challenge, turned his back on lucrative offers from Hollywood and set his sights on the Winter Olympics - he wanted to be the first ever Tongan cross country skier. He says:

"But for me, at that time, my goal was, what's my next big challenge. What is completely impossible, what can't be done - that's what I want to do. And I found cross-country skiing."

No doubt, inspired by the efforts of Bruno Banani who was the first ever Tongan Winter Olympian - and competed at the Sochi Games, he joined the Royal Tongan Ski Team founded by passionate Leafa Mataele Wawryk and Dr Steve Grundmann (famous in German sporting circles) and with the patronage of HRH the Princess Royal.

“To me it is not crazy at all, it seems really normal to me [switching sports],” says Taufatofua.

However, without the level of sporting infrastructure and financial support that Bruno enjoyed, Pita had to improvise.

In his warm climate at home he watched many videos of cross country racers, in an effort to emulate their technique and realised the were all lithe and agile - yes, even skinny - so he set about losing 15kgs and got down to 90kg, so he could be fast too. (Still 15kgs more than most cross country skiers!)

Through the passionate support of Grundmann (Honorary Sports Director) he found Thomas Jacob who became his Honorary Coach and took Pita into his family - housing, feeding and training him for his preparation in Europe. With just a month's preparation pita competed at the Nordic World Champs in Lahti in Finland in 2017.

Back at home where he lived in a city without snow, Pita then learned how to use 'road' roller skis - finding these were indeed a lot harder than they looked:

"These are the worst things ever made," Pita says. "I tell you: the amount of concrete that I've eaten, no one should ever go through that process."

Nevertheless, he mastered those tricky road skis and was able to tally up 4 city races to his credit in his journey to qualify as a cross country skier for PyeongChang.

But he still needed to prove himself on snow.

With only a few weeks left to qualify, Pita went to the European circuit on a tight budget, stayed in hostels at the events; ate tinned tuna and simply tried his very best.

But in Europe he had a poor start. In Poland the snow track was too soft for his solid frame and he kept braking braking through the snow.

At the next race Pita lost a ski and had to chase it down the hill. He then desperately tried to qualify in Croatia by driving through the night for 6 hours to Georgia so he could fly via Istanbul to Croatia - even though he would have to compete without any sleep. But his plane was late and the connecting plane door closed just before he got there!

Pita’s last shot was a race in Iceland. He knew it would be a long drive from the airport to the competition but he didn't count on the blizzards which created treacherous driving conditions with slippery roads and low visibility.

Then calamity stuck! The only roadway through was closed by not one but 3 avalanches!

Pita decided to anyhow still keep going - even if he had to hike the last 20kms! He was going to make it!
But this time the snow gods were smiling on him and just as he arrived at the closed road, a snow plough appeared from nowhere and opened up the road!

However Pita was dismayed the night before competition to find yet another soft track - so he coaxed the track preparation guy into doing his best job to make the track nice and hard.

Miraculously, the stars aligned and Pita skied his heart out with a 10km time of around 35 minutes, just 4 minutes behind the winner, which meant Pita's hard work and dedication won him his place in history - to be the first ever Tongan Cross Country Winter Olympian at PyeongChang 2018

Pita's has shown himself a role model and his journey a road map for other Tongans - as he has shown how they too can achieve greatness in sport with initiative, hard work and dedication.

"Its pretty clear we’re to do something - to prove yourself in some way. And that’s not just for me, but for all the exotic and small countries, for the whole Pacific Islands."

Pita indeed epitomises the spirit of the Olympic Games! And the attached photo of Pita with his support team in the PyeongChang athletes village with the Tongan flag in front as as a backdrop symbolises all that he has worked so hard for over the last 13 months.

Every Tongan should appreciate his journey and show their support when he competes in his Tongan Snow Warrior uniform at the 15kms cross country event on 15th February by shouting "go Tonga!"

And anyone wishing to give Pita support can go to his GoFundMe page.
 
Pita Taufatofua (centre) with (L to R) Takitoa Taumoepeau from Tasanoc and the Royal Tongan Ski Team - Leafa Mataele Wawryk; Thomas Jacob; Hon Consul for Tonga in Australia, Louise Waterhouse; Dr Steve Grundmann and Amanaki Fakakovikaetau (Tasanoc)


Hon Consul Louise Waterhouse presenting Pita with a personal message of support from Their Majesties King Tupou VI and Queen Nanasipau'u - as well as her personal message and donation to Pita (presented in a Chinese red packet to represent good luck for his race on 16th - which falls on Chinese New Year!)


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