Pita Taufatofua, the Tongan athlete who appeared at the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony topless two years after doing the same at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Games, achieved both of his aims after not finishing last in the men’s 15m cross-country and avoided hitting any trees.
The 34-year-old is competing in Pyeongyang as Tonga’s only competitor across the board, having also represented his nation in Taekwondo in 2016 and before his event on Wednesday, Taufatofua admitted he was setting his expectations low for the race.
“Finish before they turn the lights off. That’s number one,” Taufatofua said. “Don’t ski into a tree. That’s number two.”
Finishing in a time of 56:41.1 – 22 minutes and 57 seconds behind gold medal winner Dario Cologna – Taufatofua crossed the line in a stadium that was still filled with fans and did so ahead of two other skiers with two more failing to finish.
Knowing that he had no chance of claiming a medal, Taufatofua admitted that he was there to inspire the next generation, and by simply finishing the race and not quitting, he would be doing just that.
“I won't medal on Friday, but in four years someone from Tonga might, in eight years someone from the Pacific might,” he said ahead of the event. “These kids who are watching now, they'll have access to something they never knew existed before.”
The feat is all the more remarkable given that Taufatofua only qualified for the even a month before the Winter Olympics, and practiced on roller skis before taking to the snow for the first time in January.
Asked what he plans to do after the Winter Olympics, he hinted that a move to a discipline on water would be of interest at the 2020 Toyko Games to tick off another box, while he also fancies a move into acting.
"Hollywood is still knocking,” he said. “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.”
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