A few weeks ago, I talked with Pita Taufotofua. Representing Tonga, he competed in taekwondo at the Summer Olympics in Rio. He distinguished himself during the opening ceremonies there by parading topless, except for a shiny layer of coconut oil and a necklace of sharks’ teeth.
Pita had such a good time that he decided to try to qualify for the Winter Games as a cross-country skier, which isn’t quite as goofy as it sounds, because as part of the qualifying process, he could race on roller skis — no snow required.
"These are the worst things ever made," Pita says. "I tell you: the amount of concrete that I've eaten, no one should ever go through that process."
With only a couple of weeks left to qualify, Pita needed a decent race on actual snow to make it to South Korea. His races in Europe had not gone well. At one of them, one of his skies came off and he had to chase it down a long hill to finish the competition. He was last. He was last, or almost last, in several other races.
Pita’s last shot was a race in Iceland. One account says he drove two hours through a blizzard to get to the starting line. Another account says the drive took three days.
It may be a case of one of those good stories getting better and better.
Anyway, Pita’s time in the sprint event in Iceland was 5 minutes, 44.72 seconds, and though that was 2 1/2 minutes behind the winner, somehow it was good enough for a guy from Tonga to make the cut.
Unhappily, as I discovered when I first spoke with Pita, the process has left him in debt.
"I think I need to win the gold medal and sell it just to get back to zero," says Pita, who has been trying to raise some money for his quest through GoFundMe.
Considering Pita’s previous performances, that seems unlikely. But so what? This is a guy who had great fun at the games in Rio, even though he lost his only taekwondo match, 16-1, when the judges invoked the mercy rule. Who’s betting that he won’t thoroughly enjoy South Korea? ... even if one of his skis falls off and he has to chase it down a hill while the crowds shout "Tonga! Tonga!"
This segment aired on February 3, 2018.