Sport: Team Tonga settled in Sochi ahead of Winter Games debut
Tongan delegation welcomed to Sochi days out from Bruno Banai's luge debut.
Tongan luge star Bruno Banani has been officially welcomed to the Sochi Winter Olympics three days before he begins competition.
The 28 year-old, nicknamed The Flying Coconut, is the only Pacific Islands athlete at the Winter Games and the first since Fijian alpine skier Laurence Thoms in 2002.
The team has been welcomed by the vice mayor of Sochi at a ceremony in the Games Village, alongside delegations from Romania, Chile, Tajikistan and Croatia.
The secretary general of the Tonga Luge Association, Leafa Mataele Wawryk, says it was an emotional experience.
LEAFA MATAELE WAWRYK: I don't think it's sunk in yet. I think we will probably feel it upon the opening ceremony but at this point now it's just [an] unbelievable situation, it's surreal in other words. I got a bit teary to see the Tongan flag and to have the Tongan national anthem played. I got choked up and I can't imagine when the big day arrives which is just a couple of days away. If I'm already feeling the way I am today in just a small ceremony I just can't imagine the big day, you know what it would bring because we're so proud of this young man.
We brought him when he was just journeying from a boy to a man. He has become an idol and a great example to all the Polynesian youth to believe in themselves and if you do there's no limit, you know the sky is the limit."
VINNIE WYLIE: Bruno is of course representing Tonga at the Winter Olympics but is also the only Pacific Islands athlete at the Games. Do you guys feel like you're representing the whole of the region as well?
LW: Absolutely, absolutely, because that's what we were talking about today and to look around it's overwhelming to sit among the best of the best in the world and here were are ]a] teeny little island with one man athlete. As a matter of a fact Bruno and I were joking about it. We were like, 'okay we need to see Samoans, we need to see Tahiti, we need to see Fijians' and then Bruno stopped me and said wait there was a Fijian skier back in the day and I reminded him it's ok, this is now your story. So yes, it would be wonderful to see more Polynesians come in and join at the Winter Games.
VW: And Bruno has his first run on Saturday, or Sunday our time back here in New Zealand and Tonga and the Pacific. What are the expectations around him? Obviously qualifying was an achievement in itself and perhaps the ultimate achievement but now that he's here and about to compete how well do you think he can go?
LW: I reminded him - I don't think it has hit him yet - is the fact that as Polynesian, I mean as Tongan, you can't get any bigger than this. He's done so well and as humble as this young man is I don't think he realises it yet and the greatest thing here is we don't know what. In other words we are just taking it one day at a time and I think he is doing the same and looking for the future, again, it's all up to him".
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