17 Aug 2016

Sport: Tonga's Pita Taufatofua ready to compete

5:02 pm on 17 August 2016

Tonga's Pita Taufatofua insists he is focused and ready for his Olympic debut this weekend.

The 32-year-old has been one of the most talked about athletes in Rio, since his coconut-oiled body made global headlines during the Games opening ceremony.

The Oceania taekwondo champion has since made a string of media appearances and created countless column inches online.

Pita Taufatofua leads Tonga's delegation during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on 5 August 2016.

Pita Taufatofua leads Tonga's delegation during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on 5 August. Photo: AFP

He said, despite the intense spotlight that had shone on him in Rio, he was confident it hadn't affected his training and preparation.

Tonga's Pita Taufatofua and coach Master Paula Sitapa training in Rio.

Pita Taufatofua, left, and his coach in Rio Photo: Instagram / Pita Taufatofua

"I feel ready. I mean, it's time - it's been a long time coming [and] I'm just happy to get up there and compete," he said.

"We've been here at the [athletes'] village for almost three weeks and three weeks of just intense focus is actually quite difficult to do so a bit of distraction here and there is OK. As you taper off with your training - you can't train 24 hours a day - you do have a few extra hours.

"All of the other athlete are pretty much finished so they're all out celebrating and partying but we just stay as focused as we can but we're also enjoying the experience as well."

Taufatofua said to be a part of the Olympics was a unique opportunity.

"I had two goals coming here: one was to chase down a gold medal, the second goal was to make sure that Tonga and the Pacific is seen.

"We're not major superpowers but we have a lot to offer to the world and we want our culture out there - so it is for Tonga but it's also for the islands in the Pacific.

"I qualified for Oceania so I'm representing Australia, Tonga, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Fiji - all of those countries - because there's only one athlete per weight division. To get that out to the world was a big goal of ours and we achieved it," he said.

His coach, Master Paula Sitapa, said Taufatofua's Olympic debut would be the culmination of a long journey.

"It's been 20 years of a vision and dream and work and a struggle on the way but it hasn't been changed. Our plan and goal is still the same - we are looking forward to get a medal from this Olympic Games here in Rio and no doubt our plan and purpose for these Games is still the same," he said.

"To get to this moment is quite amazing. It's an amazing feeling to take part in these Olympic Games... We never give up, we never quit and we're looking forward to this Saturday [Rio time]."

Mr Taufatofua's opening round opponent in the men's over 80kg division is Iran's Sajjad Mardani, in the early hours of Sunday morning.