Tonga’s famous flag bearer from the Rio Olympics made his cross-country skiing competition debut at the world championships on Thursday, a step as he hopes to compete in PyeongChang.
His first race, after taking up the sport a month ago, went about as expected.
Pita Taufatofua was 153rd of 156 finishers in the 1.6km sprint freestyle qualification. Full results are here.
It took Taufatofua 5 minutes, 44.72 seconds to complete the course in Lahti, Finland, which is about 10,000 miles from Tonga. The top qualifier clocked 3:11.72.
Taufatofua managed to beat two skiers from Venezuela and one from Montenegro but fell well short of the cutoff to advance to the quarterfinals. That’s typically the top 30 skiers.
“In terms of what I have to develop, pretty much everything,” Taufatofua said one month ago in an Olympic Channel interview. “I’m coming from the beginning, absolute beginner.”
Taufatofua could qualify for the PyeongChang Olympics next winter because cross-country skiing is inclusive at the Winter Games. For Sochi, skiers qualified from Bermuda, Brazil, Dominica and Togo.
In Rio, Taufatofua lost his opening Olympic taekwondo match by mercy rule, two weeks after his shirtless, oiled-up appearance in the Opening Ceremony.
In 2014, Bruno Banani became the first Tongan to compete at a Winter Olympics, placing 32nd in men’s luge. He was later the subject of a documentary. Banani gained fame starting in early 2012, when the story of his name was widely publicized. Banani’s real name is Fuahea Semi, but he changed it to the name of his German clothing sponsor as a marketing ploy.
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