The one and only cross-country skier from Tonga at the Olympics

You might not remember him by his name, Pita Taufatofua, but probably you do remember the flag-bearer from Tonga at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Pita changed sports in order to make it to the Winter Olympics as the only cross-country skier from Tonga. 

During the Rio Olympics, his sport was taekwondo.  But then he decided to make a shift to cross-country skiing in order to make it to Pyeongchang. It took him 12 months to train and get in shape for these games. 

 Most impressive of it all is that he was a finalist for the Winter Olympics as the only competitor from Tonga. It takes years of practice and sacrifices to make it to the pinnacle of Olympic competition, but it took Taufatofua merely one year to get there, which makes his story all more unique. 

This transition would not have been possible if it were not for Paul Bragiel. Bragiel is a venture capitalist and entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. He tried to compete as cross-country skier for Sochi in 2014 but came short. 

One year later, he was invited by Leafa Mataele Wawryk, the secretary general of the Tongan Winter Olympics team, to help them grow the team, and he agreed. Then he was invited to the coronation of Tongo's king, and to the Tongo's Olympic committee, which is where he met Pita. 

"This motherf----r picked up a brand new sport in 12 months!" said Paul Bragiel, who joined the Sunday festivities. "And it wasn't like he was an endurance runner like a marathoner — he was doing taekwondo!"

According to the Wall Street Journal, this is the first sports transition in Olympic history.  Taufatofua lost 20 pounds to make this transition.  Qualifying for the Olympics was already a feat, but being in the top three is simply historical. 

 

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