Sport: Tonga's Olympic-bound taekwondo star dares to dream
Pita Taufatofua is the first taekwondo athlete from Tonga to qualify for the Olympic Games and believes he will be a medal contender in Rio.
Rio-bound Tongan taekwondo athlete Pita PETER Taufatofua says he always believed he would achieve his dream of qualifying for the Olympics.
The 32 year old won gold in the over 80 kg class at the Oceania Qualifying tournament in Papua New Guinea last month to seal his place in Brazil.
He told Vinnie Wylie the achievement has been a long time coming.
PITA TAUFATOFUA: The dream started 20 years ago and my third attempt - it's been this accumulation of just a lot of work and just reaching it finally has been actually a big relief. A lot of weight has been taken off my shoulders and finally just realising the dream I've never experienced this sort of joy before - it's crazy, it's nuts!
VINNIE WYLIE: Did you always believe you would get there eventually or were there moments there where you thought I don't know?
PT: I had no doubt that I'd get there, I just didn't know when. I believe that I was meant to not get there the first few times. I was meant to go through the struggle. I was meant to feel the pain. My first shot at the Olympics I left New Caledonia in a wheelchair - that was 2008. In 2012 I left New Caledonia again on crutches - I had a torn PCL - so I feel I was meant to go through that struggle to really appreciate it this time. I had no doubt it would happen, I just didn't know when.
VW: And what is it about the sport of taekwondo that draws you in? What got you into the sport and what keeps you going?
PT: I actually started when I was five - a self defence thing. There's something about taekwondo which is once it's in your blood it doesn't go anywhere. There's nowhere else in life I can experience the same challenge that taekwondo gives me: getting onto the mats; getting into the ring to fight somebody you don't hate and whose sole purpose is to kick you in the head and your purpose is to kick them in the head. The emotional set you go through going into that is something I fear every time but something I don't experience anywhere else in life so it excites me being able to find those things which I fear and then walk towards them.
VW: Not only are you going to the Olympics for the first time - this is the first time that Tonga has ever qualified a taekwondo athlete to the Olympics, so that's quite significant as well?
PT: It's just really hard to stress how long it's taken and how much work it's taken. Not just for me - I'm just the tip of the iceberg. What everyone doesn't see is the majority of the mass underneath me which is blood, sweat and tears from everybody: friends, family, the Tongan community, Master, the other athletes that made it and the other athletes that didn't make it from here. The other countries they send athletes - they inspire me - and the New Zealand athlete that I beat he's a friend of mine. It took a long time for us to get here but we did."
VW: Your coach Paula Sitapa has said that he thinks now that you're at the Olympics, he reckons you can win a medal. Do you share that view?
PT: One of the things I learnt from this whole experience is that the only way to succeed or achieve anything is to have absolute belief that you will. I have no doubt in my mind when I get on the mats I'm not going to leave anything behind and I have absolutely no doubt that I will be in medal contention. As soon as I stop believing that there's no need for me to go to the Olympics.
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