Pita Taufatofua, the shirtless Tongan flag-bearer who captured hearts at the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics, is trying like crazy to become a Winter Olympian in the sport of cross-country skiing.

It’s been tough for a guy who had never skied before a few years ago, and had grown up among the sun and the beach.

But Pita persevered. He hooked up with a coach, practiced on roller skis, and at the start of January he was almost there. He had finished four races with a qualifying time, and needed just one more of the same caliber to qualify for the Olympics in PyeongChang.

Pita has been scrambling across Europe over the past week or so, trying to get that fifth race finished so he can once again bear the Tongan flag at the Opening Ceremony. He tried his luck at a race in Armenia, but according to his Instagram, a layer of soft snow scuttled his chances.

Pita’s post says that there was a race in Croatia the next day, and he wanted to get there. And with help from his training buddies, he tried.

Pita Taufatofua [Rio 2016]
Pita Taufatofua [Rio 2016]
He tried, but he didn’t make it. Even a last-ditch effort to call the plane back by pressing all of the buttons on the jet bridge (!) didn’t work, a trick which Pita says he saw in a James Bond movie.

It’s not clear if this is the end of the road for Pita’s Winter Olympic dreams. The qualifying deadline isn’t until Jan. 21, but we don’t know if there are any other races between now and then. And if there are, he might not have enough funding to make it there. Pita set up a GoFundMe to raise money for his equipment, practicing and competition, but he’s raised just $10,000 of his $30,000 goal.

Regardless, Pita seems at peace with whatever happens. In his Instagram post, he’s got his feet up and he’s already planning his future.

“I can sit on that chair crying about what could have been and how unfair life is…. or I can go and find some good quality chocolate, pull out my notepad and start planning “what’s next”— I always did like chocolate…

Whether or not Pita Taufatofua qualifies for the Olympics, he tried as hard as he could. And that’s part of the Olympic spirit, too.

Source: Liz Roscher|| Fourth-Place Medal