„This is a dream“ – HRH Princess Pilolevu Tupou initiated commitment
26.11.09 - Calgary (pps) “Nations Cup Calgary, 41st place, Bruno Banani (TGA).“ - This is how it will go down in the annals of the “Luge Federation of the Kingdom of Tonga”. And November 20, 2009 marks the first official start in a luge competition of the archipelagic state in the South Pacific. Only ten months ago the 21-year old student of computer sciences, who will celebrate his 22nd birthday on December 4, made his first attempts on the artificial ice.
Bruno Banani’s luge career took off at a three-week long training course in Altenberg, Germany, in February 2009. He was coached by Isabell Barschinski who went to school together with two-time World Champion Tatjana Huefner of Germany. Banani took another three-week long training course on the artificially-iced track in Koenigssee; in summer the International Luge Federation, FIL, accepted Tonga as provisional member nation. Further training weeks in Lillehammer, Norway, and Sigulda, Latvia, then followed.
Banani had to face his first challenge at the International Training Week on the future Olympic track in Whistler for the 2010 Games in Vancouver at the beginning of November. Banani mastered the track without a single crash. “That’s a feat I cannot claim”, praised Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger, European champion and two-time World silver medallist, who crashed in Whistler, suffering a ligament tear of the ankle.
“We’re extremely proud of Bruno”, explained Leafa Mataele Wawryk, spokesperson for the Royal Family, in Calgary. Tonga’s commitment in luge started upon an initiative of “Her Royal Highness Princess Pilolevu Tupou”, only sister of the ruling king George Tupou V. Their role model is today’s Prince Albert of Monaco, who committed himself to bobsleigh as heir apparent, competed in five Olympic Games and still promotes ‘his’ sport in the Principality. “With our initiative we hope to offer an alternative to the young people in Tonga”, stressed Laefa Mataele Wawryk.
At present the Kingdom of Tonga, an archipelagic state in the South Pacific, boasts about 101,000 inhabitants. The archipelago comprises 169 islands, formerly also known as Friendly Islands, and the two Minerva Reefs. Only 36 of those islands are inhabited. Tonga is the only nation in Oceania to have avoided colonization by Europeans. So far, Tonga has made headlines in sport mainly in rugby.
And now in luge as well. Even though the vague prospect of competing in the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver comes as a surprise. “It would be a dream come true”, said the royal spokesperson Wawryk. “Originally, we hoped to compete at the Olympics in four years time. We never reckoned that Bruno would be so good.” The student who loves the speed in luge shall “fully concentrate on his sport and not on making headlines in the media,” said Leafa Mataele Wawryk.