6 Feb 2014

Sport: Tongan delegation welcomed in Sochi ahead of Winter Games debut

11:47 am on 6 February 2014

Tongan luge star Bruno Banani has been officially welcomed to the Sochi Winter Olympics but his team admit it still hasn't sunk in that they're actually there.

The 28 year-old, nicknamed 'The Flying Coconut, is the only Pacific Islands athlete at the Winter Games and begins his competition on Saturday.

Team Welcoming Ceremonies were held overnight in the Mountains Games Village, with Tonga joined by delegations from Romania, Chile, Tajikistan and Croatia.

The Sochi Vice Mayor welcomed each participating team and concluded with the raising of each flag for each respective country.

The Secretary General of the Tonga Luge Association, Leafa Mataele Wawryk, says it was an emotional experience.

"I got a bit teary to see the Tongan flag and to have the Tongan national anthem played. I can't imagine when the big day arrives which is just a couple of days away. We've come a long way and, again, it's so surreal. 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, the sky is the limit."

Leafa Mataele Wawryk says the hosts have also done a great job with security.

"This is as secure as they come. I give Sochi, I give the Russian people so much credit because you could see they've put all their hearts and souls into this. I don't know of anything that hasn't been turned as far as security. Everywhere you go, it's almost every quarter of a mile, between security police and army I mean they're just everywhere and you can see they've put their heart and soul into this, which is awesome."