Feature | Canoe

Injured Pita Taufatofua's Olympic qualification hopes at stake

The Tongan is aiming for his third Olympics in a third different sport, but has rib and muscle injuries.

By ZK Goh ·

Things are getting serious for Pita Taufatofua's Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualification hopes.

The Tongan, most famous for entering the Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018 Opening Ceremonies bare-chested and covered in coconut oil, has two major Olympic qualifying events coming up – in two different sports.

His first attempt at the Oceania Canoe Sprint Championships where he tried to qualify in the men's 200m single kayak event was unsuccessful. Pita finished 8th in his heat on Saturday and was not fast enough to take a lucky loser spot.

He has one more shot in May in Germany. Kayak would be his third different Olympic sport,

And the 36-year-old will also compete in the Oceania Taekwondo Olympic Qualification Tournament on 29 February as he attempts to make it to the Japanese capital in the sport he made his Olympic debut in.

To top it off, he will have to take part in both qualifiers with rib and muscle injuries.

"Obviously the rib injury affects taekwondo just as much as kayaking," he told NBC.

"We’re just praying for a miracle, that I wake up and everything feels good."

Third sport

Taufatofua first came to prominence in Rio when he entered the Maracanã Stadium bare-chested.

However, on the taekwondo mat, his Games ended early as he suffered a first-round elimination.

Then he changed course and managed to qualify for his first Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in cross-country skiing, finishing 114th in the 15 km freestyle race.

In 2019, he teased that he was aiming to make it back to the Olympics in a new sport.

Announcing his decision, he told the Olympic Channel Podcast at the time: "I chose kayak because it's something close to my heart. It's something that Polynesians have done for a thousand years, travelling from island to island."

Now, that dream of becoming the first person to take part in three consecutive Olympics in three unrelated sports is on the line.

Should Taufatofua not qualify at the continental championships – only the winner in each 'A' final will make it – there is one final spot available in his event at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup 2 in Germany in May.

Tonga has also applied for a Tripartite Commission invitational place in canoeing, according to NBC Olympics. If he hasn't qualified by then, he should find out whether or not he has been awarded an invitational spot on 2 June, according to the International Canoe Federation's Tokyo 2020 qualification system.

Taekwondo would also offer Taufatofua a route to Tokyo, although his injury could be a stumbling block.