Olympic Athlete Profile: Pita Taufatofua TGA

PYEONGCHANG - Comments from Tongan cross-country skier Pita TAUFATOFUA (TGA) at the Main Press Centre on Wednesday.

Pita TAUFATOFUA (TGA)

On qualifying for the Olympic Winter Games with limited experience of snow:

"This journey for me to get across to the Winter Olympics has been the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life.

"I've had 12 weeks on snow in my whole life. On Friday I'll have close to 13 weeks on snow if the race takes me a week to finish but hopefully not, hopefully not."

On why he wanted to compete at the Olympic Winter Games:

"On a personal level I wanted to qualify and I achieved that goal, but on a bigger level, for something that was much bigger than myself, it was, 'What can I do with this? How can I perhaps hopefully inspire someone to be at the next Olympics?'

"The truth is that I've had a short time on snow and I won't medal on Friday but in four years someone from Tonga might, in eight years someone from the Pacific might, but more importantly people from the Pacific, these kids who are watching now, they'll have access to something they never knew existed before."

On what motivates him:

"As a kid, when I grew up in Tonga, I was the smallest, I was the shortest, I was the skinniest, I was the slowest kid in school.

"Four years in a row I tried at rugby, I went to every single training session, I never missed a training but four years I was never once put on the field, I was never given a chance. The coaches thought I had no chance of just running in for the last two minutes.

"That taught me two things: I was resilient, one, I don't give up, and two, I needed better coaches at the time because that's not how you treat people."

On going to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games:

"Will I go to try for the next Olympics? I might be a 90-year-old still trying for the Olympics, just to show that 90-year-olds can still try for the Olympics, it doesn't end for me.

"If I decide on a third sport, or maybe even two for one Olympics, I'm not sure if that's been done, I don't know, it's just new challenges for me, things I find interesting.

"If it's a third sport it'll probably be something more aligned with where I am and where I can train and maybe something more in line with my heritage and where I come from.

"I've been inside, I have fought, had fights in a taekwondo ring, and coming out to the snow, maybe water's the next, maybe something to do with water, stay tuned."

On advice from the cross-country skiers he admires:

"It's really hard to have idols that you race against because you want to talk to them but they keep flying past you, so that's the only real opportunity you have to see them.

"By the time you get to the finish line, they've already gone home, had coffee, had dinner and gone to sleep so you don't have much time to talk to them."

On the devastation in Tonga caused this week by Cyclone Gita:

"If anything, it's kind of pulled my focus in a different direction. Tonga has cyclones, this is the biggest in 60 years. Every time a cyclone or a big storm hits, it's devastating for the country. I think we have 40% of homes in the capital city were destroyed, only the brick homes stood.

"For such a small economy, that's very hard to come back from, that takes years and sometimes you don't come even back from that.

"From an economic perspective, Tonga has been hit very hard. How will it affect my performance? I don't know because I'm thinking of Tonga right now."

On marching shirtless at the Opening Ceremony:

"If my ancestors can sail across the Pacific Ocean for 1000 years, not knowing where the next piece of land is going to be, not knowing where their next meal is going to be, going to war, then I can walk for 25 minutes through an Opening Ceremony without a shirt on and represent 1000 years of heritage because that's what they wore for 1000 years."

On his goals for the 15km free race:

"The 15km has never been kind to me, we have this love-hate, hate-hate relationship actually. All of my qualifying points have been in the 10km, which is sort of at the limit of my ability, so first step, finish before they turn the lights off. Don't ski into a tree, that's number two.

"My worst 15km was an hour 40 (minutes) and I lost a ski coming down a hill. It sounds a bit like a joke but I tell you when your spirit tells you always finish a race and you lose a ski on the first lap of six laps, you question your spirit sometimes."