Pita Taufatofua stole the heart of the world back in 2016 went he spent the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremonies oiled up and shirtless while repping Tonga. He competed in taekwondo at those games, but this year, he’ll be back in a much different capacity—a cross-country skier.
The Wall Street Journal has been following Taufatofua as he has tried to qualify for another Olympics, and wow, did it pay off. Taufatofua’s quest to make it to the games in Pyeongchang should absolutely become a movie. The Tongan had never skied before last year, but he caught a bit of a break when the International Ski Federation changed its rules to allow roller-skiing race points to count towards cross-country skiing qualification, which benefits warmer-weather nations.
Still, Taufatofua had to teach himself to roller ski, and it, uh, took a few tries:
But he practiced and got good enough that he was able to go to Columbia in November and get four of the five times he needed to qualify for the Olympics. The next problem, however, was that there were no more roller-ski races on the schedule, and Taufatofua would have to go it on snow. From the WSJ:
Taufatofua devised a strategy. He formed an international alliance with friends he called “the exotics” like German Madrazo, a Mexican endurance athlete, and Yonathan Fernandez, a Chilean military member who raced at the Sochi Games. He also enlisted the help of a coach, Thomas Jacob, who teaches skiing to kids when he’s not busy running a home-decor business and working for his local government.
The aspiring Olympians rented a cabin in an Austrian village and fell into a monastic routine of waking up early and training until dark. By the time he left, Taufatofua felt confident that he would qualify in one of his four remaining weekends.
In the first three weekends, Taufatofua couldn’t do it. But in a last chance effort on Saturday, in the Icelandic city of Ísafjörður, after driving eight hours through avalanche conditions, he raced and he got the time he needed. “I’m the brokest I’ve been in my life,” Taufatofua said last weekend. But he’s an Olympian once again.
The International Ski Federation spokesperson said that Taufatofua is a lock to be chosen for the Tongan cross-country ski team, because he is the Tongan cross-country ski team. According to the WSJ, he’s already thinking about what he’ll do at the opening ceremonies.