Pita Taufatofua worked 20 years of his life to make the Olympic team in Taekwondo. But unfortunately, after losing his first match of the 2016 Games in Rio, he’s better known now for bearing his chest last year during the opening ceremonies wearing traditional Tongan garb. But he’s trying to make the Tongan Olympic team again. Albeit in a different season. Taufatofua is making a run to qualify for the Tongan winter Olympic team in cross-country skiing, certainly an anomaly for the South Pacific island.
Taufatofua, who’s mother is Australian and father is Tongan, was born in Oz and apparently split time between Australia and Tonga growing up. His first two attempts to make the Tongan Taekwondo team were thwarted by injury. While he’ll still try to qualify for the summer games in 2020, his full attention is on snow right now (he first stepped onto the substance only a couple of months ago) and the 2018 Games in South Korea. He’s training near Perisher in Australia and has competed several times to try and qualify. But his big frame is nearly the opposite of the lithe, long-distance running type bodies that are prevalent in the sport of skate–or cross country—skiing. But Taufatofua, it seems, is more concerned about raising awareness for his home country.
“When you try to do something bigger than yourself, that’s where your true purpose is going to be,” he told ESPN’s UK outlet. “That’s what I’m trying to do with all this. We have a [Tongan] ski federation that is me and a couple athletes: Steve [Grundmann] in Germany, Leafa [Wawryk] in the U.S. And that’s our ski federation.”
It sounds as if Taufatofua’s road to qualification will be tough–he finished 153 out of 155 at his first event in Finland. But that might not be Taufatofua’s only hurdle. Qualifying is expensive. That’s way he’s set up a crowdfunding page. He’ll need the cash, and all the luck he can get.