Tonga's Olympic flagbearer Pita Taufatofua qualifies for PyeongChang
Tonga’s viral sensation Pita Taufatofua has qualified for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang after switching from taekwondo to cross-country skiing.
Taufatofua lost 15kg as he adapted to an unfamiliar sport, but defied the odds to become the first Tongan in history to qualify for the Summer and Winter Games.
He made his name after finding recognition as the oiled flagbearer at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
The 34-year-old crashed out in the first round in Brazil, but has spoken of his pride at being able to compete again:
"After Rio I decided to find the hardest sport possible because I needed a new challenge. You've got to put your body through something really challenging and the goal was to do it in one year - and we did it in one year!"
It all came down to his last race in Iceland on Saturday, just 24 hours before the qualification deadline, having earlier missed a flight in Istanbul in an attempt to qualify via an event in Croatia.
And it somehow clicked when it mattered, with Taufatofua securing the remaining points he needed to reach South Korea.
"I gave it absolutely everything," he told the Wall Street Journal. "I died at the end."
Taufatofua gave his reaction to qualifying for PyeongChang via a Facebook live broadcast.
“This was the last day of the qualification process, this was my last race possible and we did it. We have done it,” he said.
“I had seven races and they all failed. I did my best but I fell short each time and I thought there’s one race left, it’s at the end of the world.”
"This is big for Tonga … It's about all of us," he added.
"This is only special if it inspires somebody else to become something bigger than themselves."