Pita Taufatofua was Tonga’s flag bearer at Rio and again at the Winter OlympicsXXIII Olympic Winter GamesVenue: Pyeongchang, South Korea Dates: 9-25 FebruaryCoverage: Watch live on BBC TV, Red Button, Connected TVs, BBC Sport website and mobile app. Full coverage timesPita Taufatofua says he has wanted to quit every cross-country ski race he has ever…
|XXIII Olympic Winter Games|
|Venue: Pyeongchang, South Korea Dates: 9-25 February|
|Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, Red Button, Connected TVs, BBC Sport website and mobile app. Full coverage times|
Pita Taufatofua says he has wanted to quit every cross-country ski race he has ever competed in, and he wouldn’t be surprised if the only person left clapping him over the finish line at Friday’s 15km event in Pyeongchang is his sister.
Two years ago, he was marching into the Rio summer Games carrying the Tongan flag shirtless and sporting an oily torso – last week, at sub zero temperatures, he did the same in South Korea at the Winter Olympics.
His taekwondo dream ended in a 19-1 opening-round defeat in Brazil and having turned to the snow Taufatofua’s ambitions are to “finish before they turn the lights off” and “don’t ski into a tree”.
Taufatofua only hit the snow for the first time 12 weeks ago, having endured 4am training sessions where he learned to ski on roller-skis he calls “the worst thing possible”.
But he insists the one thing he will not do during Friday’s race, which starts at 06:00 GMT, is quit.
“Every race, I struggle. Every race I want to quit, there hasn’t been a race I haven’t wanted to stop after the first lap – but I always finish a race,” he told BBC Sport.
“Once you allow yourself the excuse of stopping, you will stop. It doesn’t matter if you come in an hour behind the winner, because when it comes to how you translate that to life, you don’t stop. And that’s how I am here, because I didn’t stop.
“It’s the toughest sport I could find. I’m not a distance athlete, I am not a long-distance cross country skier. I trained for sprints all year and they said ‘no, you’re doing long distance’.”
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‘I can’t let people down, I have to keep trying’
Taufatofua does not expect his tale to be about winning Olympic gold, instead he hopes to inspire others from the Pacific Islands to compete.
But the Tongan, who also harbours hopes of appearing in Hollywood one day, still had to qualify for Pyeongchang, earning enough points in 10km events to do so.
“How did I get here?” he added. “Lots of prayer. It was a miracle, to qualify in such a short time was a miracle. I had help from the big man upstairs, I had help from the people supporting me.
“I wake up at 4am, go out on these roller skis and people are supporting. So I can’t let people down, I have to keep trying. You do enough things and you will get there eventually.
“I am not going to win, I had 12 weeks. The miracle was to get here. I do it because there are people who are inspired by this story. Publicly, I show all my failings as well – I don’t just put on this image of a perfect life.
“People are scared to fail, scared of criticism, scared of what their mum or dad will say about stuff and then they don’t do anything.”
So having achieved his goals of reaching both summer and winter Games, what is next for the intrepid Taufatofua?
“Short-term, it’s just getting round the course and hoping there’s still someone in the stadium. There may be one hand clapping and it’ll be my sister. I just want to get through the race,” he added.
“Hollywood is still knocking. Hollywood is interesting for me – if i can use it to influence people positively. I want to get up on a TED Talk some time and show the world what they can do.”