Luger has Tonga heading to the Winter Olympics

COOL RUNNINGS: Forget Sonny Bill William's antics, tropical Tonga has emulated Jamaica's Winter Olympics debut.
Reuters
COOL RUNNINGS: Forget Sonny Bill William's antics, tropical Tonga has emulated Jamaica's Winter Olympics debut.

Forget Sonny Bill William's antics, tropical Tonga has pulled their own version of Jamaica's stunning Olympics debut - a transformed rugby player is heading to the Winter Olympics in Russia.

It's the first time ever that Tonga, not known for its snow, has ever been at the Winter Olympics.

Carrying their flag is a 25-year-old luger now known as Bruno Banani - but who four years ago was rugby player Fuahea Semi and had never sat on a luge.

Matangi Tonga says Banani is currently ranked 24th out of the top 61 lugers in the world. 

Banani's entry into luge has been controversial thanks to the way he ditched his Polynesian name to become the European face of "Coconut Powered" men's underpants. It is as if Daniel Carter changed his name to Jockey Support.

In 2008 then 18-year-old Semi was playing rugby and serving in the Tongan army when a German-US marketing company, Makai Events Promotion Company, announced he had been chosen to train for luge with elite German athletes.

Semi was registered with the International Luge Federation (ILF) but then disappeared, only to re-emerge bearing the name of a German high fashion and sporting goods label.

The Canadian press took exception to him but Banani insisted that it was his real name "on his passport and birth certificate, neither of which he had with him".

Banani claims he inspired the Coconut Powered brand, saying he got his sports prowess from coconuts (All Black legend Jonah Lomu used to say it was taro). 

The last time a Pacific Island nation participated at the Winter Olympics was Fiji, represented by Laurence Thoms in alpine skiing at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Last month a Tongan Luge Association was created, despite the fact that the kingdom lacks a luge run at all - and its main island, Tongatapu, is pretty flat.

The association has named Princess Pilolevu Tuita as its patron.

Surprisingly the new luge association committee includes 'Ahongalu Fusimalohi who used to be an executive committee member of football's world governing FIFA. He was banned for two years for corruption during the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 world cups.

Fusimalohi and Mali's Amadou Diakite posed as lobbyists on how to bribe FIFA officials.

Fairfax Media