Wed, 18 January 2017
Last Updated: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 9am
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Tongan taekwondo sensation targets cross-country skiing

AUCKLAND, (INSIDE THE GAMES) -Tonga taekwondo athlete Pita Taufatofua, who made worldwide headlines after his Opening Ceremony appearance at the Rio 2016 Olympics, has targeted an unlikely appearance at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games as a cross-country skier.

The 33-year-old, the flagbearer for the Pacific island nation in Rio in August, marched into the ceremony topless, displaying his oiled and heavily muscular body.

The images went viral with 45 million hits registered on Google asking "Where is Tonga?" and "What Sport Does Taufatofua Do?"

He received huge coverage globally in non-sporting press and more than 100 million viewers tuned in during his appearance on The Today Show on American channel NBC.

Taufatofua lost his first round bout in Brazil in the men's over 80-kilogram competition, but has now set his sights on Pyeongchang, with the Games in South Korea getting underway in just over a year in February 2018.

However, his task appears tough as until now he has not used skis. 

"Cross-country skiing represents to me something new, something completely different," he said in a video shared by The Olympic Channel.

"I want to show people that they too can do anything I can do.

"For me it's always been about the challenge, it's always been about getting out of my comfort zone.

"Doing things that I have never done before, pushing that physical limit, pushing that mental limit."

In July, Tonga announced that they hoped to send a team of skiers to Pyeongchang and that they did not want to be seen as a "novelty team" despite the country's tropical climate.

A group of Tongan skiers based in Europe have been recruited, with the country officially accepted by the International Ski Federation (FIS).

It is not known how Taufatofua would qualify for Pyeongchang with the 2016-17 FIS World Cup season already underway.

Tonga were represented at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Bruno Banani became the country's first ever competitor at a Winter Games when he finished 32nd out of 39 in the men's luge.

He was born Fuahea Semi, but changed his name to that of a German underwear maker, irking International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach who described it as a "perverse marketing idea".

Banani only took up the sport as a publicity stunt which was encouraged by the company.

Other famous Winter Olympians from warm-weather countries are US Virgin Islands luger Anne Abernathy and Kenyan cross-country skier Philip Boit. 

However, the most famous are the Jamaican bobsleigh team at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, who were immortalised in the film Cool Runnings.


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