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Tongan Pita Taufatofua: ‘We were racing not to come last’

Tongan flag-bearer Pita Taufatofua was brutally honest about his ambitions ahead of his Winter Olympics debut.

“First step, finish before they turn the lights off,” he told reporters of his aims. “Don’t ski into a tree, that’s number two,” he added.

Happily, the 34-year-old Taufatofua avoided those pitfalls in the men’s 15-kilometer free cross country skiing event Friday.

Having competed in Taekwondo at Rio 2016 and caused a stir by appearing oiled up and topless at the opening ceremony (a trick he repeated in freezing Pyeongchang), Taufatofua crossed the line in 114th position.

That was just under 23 minutes behind gold-medal winner Dario Cologna from Switzerland.

Taufatofua then waited at the finish alongside fellow stragglers Sebastian Uprimny of Colombia, Morocco’s Samir Azzimani and Portugal’s Kequyen Lam as they welcomed Mexico’s German Madrazo who finished in 119th and last position.

“Everyone was at the front racing to come first, we were racing not to come last, but we’ll have a good laugh over dinner,” Taufatofua later joked.

“I’d rather be finishing towards the end of the pack with all my friends than in the middle by myself. We fought together, we finished together,” he added.

‘People are scared to fail’

Taufatofua has described just reaching the Games as a miracle.

He rented skis to train in and only had 12 weeks of preparation time on snow ahead of Pyeongchang.

Speaking before taking to the course, he described wanting to compete “because there are people who are inspired by this story.”

“People are scared to fail, scared of criticism, scared of what their mum or dad will say about stuff and then they don’t do anything,” he said.

READ: Tonga’s topless flag-bearer achieves the impossible

READ: Ghana’s unlikely skeleton star

‘Let’s see if it can be done’

Taufatofua now wants to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, though he’s still mulling which sport.

“That’s one of my goals. Three Olympics, three different sports, let’s see if it can be done, huh?”

“Something to do with water. We’ll see. High jumping? Whoa. Right now staying warm would be my next sport.”

Another unlikely Olympic hero who had his moment on Thursday was Akwasi Frimpong.

The Ghanaian, once lived as an illegal immigrant in the Netherlands, finished in 30th position.

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