Sochi Winter Olympics: Brief encounter for underwear man

Rosa Khutor: Tongan luger Bruno Banani -- who changed his name to that of a German underwear manufacture for a publicity stunt -- said it is an "amazing feeling" to be his country's first ever Winter Olympian. The 26-year-old took to the track at Rosa Khutor on Thursday for a practice run and enjoyed the experience despite making some mistakes.

"It's amazing, just a great feeling," he said. "I just can't explain how happy I am to get to the Olympics. "It's just unbelievable to be a kind of sports ambassador of my country at the Games. Whenever I go back I'll tell people in my country how great it is and maybe some of them will join me in this sport.

"The track profile here is good and the ice is very fast," added the Pacific islander, who is targeting a top-30 finish at the Sochi Games. Banani, who hails from a tropical archipelago famed for its sunshine and white sandy beaches, had an unlikely introduction to the icy winter sport when he was plucked from obscurity in 2008 and coaxed into taking up luge as part of a marketing campaign.

At the time he was an information technology student named Fuahea Semi whose sporting passion, like most in Tonga, was rugby union. A marketing company persuaded him to change his name to Bruno Banani, which is the name of a German underwear maker, and become part of the luge circuit as a publicity stunt -- and he managed to qualify for the Sochi Games.

The similarity in names was passed off as a coincidence and, after undergoing training in Germany, Banani began appearing at luge events, wearing the company's gear with a logo reading "coconut powered". The ploy was exposed by Germany's "Der Spiegel" in February 2012 after suspicions were raised by the naming coincidence and the media-shy Banani's reluctance to answer questions about his background.

Thomas Bach, now the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, said at the time the move was a "perverse" marketing idea. "It is of bad taste to change your name to that of a sponsor. That is too much for me. This has nothing to do with proper marketing," he said.

The inspiration for the stunt was reportedly the unfancied Jamaican bobsleigh team that defied the odds to compete at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, depicted in the Hollywood comedy "Cool Runnings". The son of a coconut farmer, who had never seen snow, Banani said he previously knew nothing about luge.

"There was a little contest. They said it's dangerous and fast," he said. "That's why I wanted to try it. I love speed. I had to overcome about 20 opponents to win the contest and to become the luger. "Finally the coach has chosen me. And I'd say I was right to chose luge as I feel fun at every moment of sliding."

Banani is practising in Sochi with the German national team. "It has helped me a lot in every aspect," he said. "I've learned everything from them -- how to slide down right and how to prepare the sledge, just everything. That was a really precious experience."

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