3 Mar 2016

Sport: Tongan taekwondo athlete always believed he would reach Olympics

12:38 pm on 3 March 2016

Rio-bound Tongan taekwondo athlete Pita Taufatofua says he always believed he would achieve his dream of qualifying for the Olympics.

The 32 year old beat New Zealand's Daffyd Sanders in final of the over 80kg class at the Oceania Qualifying tournament over the weekend to seal his place in Brazil.

"The dream started 20 years ago and it's been this accumulation of just a lot of work and just reaching it finally has been 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! I had no doubt I'd get there, I just didn't know when."

Tonga's Pita Taufatofua celebrates qualifying for the Rio Olympics.

Tonga's Pita Taufatofua celebrates qualifying for the Rio Olympics. Photo: Pita Taufatofua / Paula Sitapa / Tonga Taekwondo Association

It was the third time lucky for the Australian-born athlete, who first started learning taekwondo in Tonga at the age of five, after injury wrecked his previous attempts to reach the Summer Games.

"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."

Pita Taufatofua is Tonga's first taekwondo athlete to compete at an Olympic Games and said his achievement is the result of decades of hard work from all those involved in the country's taekwondo community.

"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. The other countries they send athletes and they inspire me and the New Zealand athlete that I beat he's a friend of mine and I take all that energy. It took a long time for us to get here but we did."

Pita Taufatofua said the Olympic qualifier was his first competition in close to two years and he will now start formulating a plan for the five months leading up to Rio.