Don't hit tree! - Shirtless Tongan's goal is to finish and inspire at Winter Olympics

February 16, 2018
FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2018 file photo, Pita Taufatofua carries the flag of Tonga during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP):

Tongan cross-country skier Pita Taufatofua joked that he has two immediate goals when he competes in his first Winter Olympic event on Friday: Don't hit a tree and finish before they turn off the lights.

The medal podium is far from the mind of the 'shirtless' Tongan, who qualified for the cross-country event despite having taken up the sport less than a year ago and having spent less than 12 weeks of his life on snow.

The 34-year-old Taufatofua said that his real long-term goal is to inspire others from the South Pacific to give the Olympics a shot. He's doing a good job so far, as one of very few athletes to compete in both the Summer and Winter Games.

"I won't medal on Friday, but in four years someone from Tonga might, in eight years someone from the Pacific might," Taufatofua said. "These kids who are watching now, they'll have access to something they never knew existed before."

You've probably heard about or at least seen Taufatofua by now.

He became a TV and Internet hit in 2016 when he walked shirtless into the opening ceremony at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro carrying the Tongan flag, his bare chest oiled up, showing off his muscular physique.

He didn't fare so well in tae kwon do at those games, losing his first match 19-1.

But, shortly after that, the persistent Taufatofua decided to make a run at qualifying for the Winter Games even though it almost never snows where he comes from. He said he took up cross-country skiing because it was the most challenging of all Olympic events, and he trained on roller skis at home and in Australia.

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