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"So we decided that we were going to own this story and just flood the zone. Continuing His Olympic Story — In The Winter Games I recently reached Pita on Skype, just after he’d checked into a tiny hotel room with really spotty Wi-Fi in Germany. Pita explained he was not particularly disappointed that he’d lost his only match in Rio."Absolutely not. "That was a bigger win for me, because now people know where Tonga is," he says. And in case you don’t, Tonga is an archipelago in the southern Pacific Ocean. Which means there’s no snow there — which wouldn’t matter, except that Pita had such a good time at the 2016 Summer Olympics that he decided he couldn’t wait until 2020 to do it again. In summer, I saw that they were practicing on roller skis."On roller skis, a cross-country skier needs only pavement to practice the motions necessary to actually cross-country ski. And the process has moved him a little closer to his goal of competing at the Winter Games."After the Sochi Games in 2014, the International Ski Federation decided, in an effort to expand its field to warm weather nations, it decided to allow points accrued in roller skiing events to count toward cross-country skiing," Cohen explains.So we sent three people.""He lost — I believe the score was 16-1," Cohen says. He won the crowd.""They were chanting 'Tonga, Tonga,' " Robinson recalls, "and he was waving the Tongan flag."Pita’s match lasted just six minutes. I mean, 50 percent of everyone that fights in the taekwondo tournament loses their first match," he says. He wanted to compete in the upcoming Winter Games in South Korea. "So it is possible to qualify for cross-country skiing at the Olympics by getting most of your points while on roller skis.""That's like qualifying to play basketball in the Olympics by building up points playing shuffleboard," I say."Or Pop-A-Shot, yeah," Cohen says."Right, in the arcade," I say."I think you'll have to take your beef to the International Ski Federation, though."Yeah. Because why would I want to deprive a taekwondo athlete from Tonga of the opportunity to compete in cross-country skiing?During those sessions they light the trails with the flashlights on their i Phones.Pita maintains that they each bring different talents to the partnership."One guy knows how to wax skis.He's trying to take an under-represented country to the Olympics because he enjoyed being there and because he felt he wanted to take on a new challenge. That's really what it should be about."That, and whether — if Pita makes it to South Korea — he’ll wear a shirt during the opening ceremonies. Robinson feels Pita's adventure offers us a perspective too easily buried under the noise generated by the commercial spectacle of the Games."I think it's easy to be cynical about the Winter Olympics, and the Olympics in general, now," he says. There seems to be a constant hurricane of scandal, especially after Sochi with Russian doping. For much more on Pita Taufatofua's quest to reach the Winter Olympics, check out Ben Cohen and Joshua Robinson's recent story for the Wall Street Journal: "Remember the Shirtless Tongan Flag-Bearer?And when you look at Pita's story, there's nothing of that about it.
You would think a grown man’s exposed nipples and muscly chest would have been newsworthy for less than a minute, but the thinks you’re wrong.One guy knows how to book a hotel room, I guess," Pita says, laughing."We find out what resources we have and we work together. It's not all about gold medals and just destroying each other.Robinson says the Tongan rookie has been trying to learn from the veteran."I saw him give the other two a lesson on how to wax skis properly," Robinson says."And Yonathan, the Chilean, starts pulling out these little tubs of ski wax, telling Pita how much they cost, sometimes 40 or 50 bucks a pop.