When the phone rings and a chance to be in the Olympics is on the other end – you don’t hang up.
Identified to represent his country of birth, Private Fe’ao Faka’osi said he was overwhelmed and called the Tonga Judo Association to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.
Now, the preparation begins to take his signature move of the ‘drop seoi nage’ from his Sydney dojo to the Olympic stage in Paris, 2024.
“I had to ring the guys from Tonga and they told me that I had qualified if I was willing to take the opportunity,” Private Faka’osi said.
“In 2012, I qualified but I dislocated my shoulder so I missed out. It means everything to me, I didn’t know this second chance would come around.”
Enlisting in 2020, the Tongan-born soldier had already been competing in judo for 25 years and recently became recognised by Army as an elite sports participant.
Private Faka’osi has lived in Australia since 2010, however being the only world ranked Tongan judo competitor he qualifies to represent the country.
“As much as I want to represent Australia, I don’t have a chance of doing that as they already have their players set,” Private Faka’osi said.
Each morning the judoka completes a custom, online training program.
Five days a week, he will battle Sydney traffic from Holsworthy to Silverwater for back-to-back 2-hour training sessions of an evening and still find time to sleep when he gets home.
Private Fe’ao Faka’osi is aiming for Paris Olympics 2024. Photo: ADF
‘Quietly confident’ – coach
Judo has taken him nationally and overseas to compete and train.
Private Faka’osi attended a training camp in Zagreb, Croatia last month.
He will be competing in Brisbane later this month with the ADF Judo Team, and then heads to Tahiti in October for another competition to represent Tonga.
Private Faka’osi said he has to keep his head in the game and will give it a “red-hot crack” in the City of Light.
Private Faka’osi’s coach, Major Derek Morris, has formed a strong relationship with the Judo coaching staff of the Combat Institute of Australia, after being invited to train at the National Performance Centre.
“Since commencing training with the Australian team, the coaching staff have been more accommodating than I could have imagined,” Major Morris said.
“It’s allowed Fe’ao to develop beyond state and national level competition and really get immersed in the culture and mindset of high-level international judo.”
Major Morris said this journey is not just about striving for a gold medal at the Olympics, but about making Tonga a credible contender in international judo in the years to come.
“At 40 years old, Fe’ao will probably be the second or third oldest guy on the mat at the Olympics next year,” Major Morris said.
“I’m quietly confident that if we get a favourable draw, he should still be able to walk away with a win or two.”
Private Faka’osi’s son is also competing well on the national circuit and Major Morris said, looking into the future, he could be an upcoming Olympian himself.
“I’m also developing [Private Faka’osi] to be a coach. His young fellow will be 24-years-old by Brisbane Olympics in 2032 and I believe that he has a real chance at winning a medal,” Major Morris said.
“This journey is not just about next year, there’s a longer-term strategy at play here. We’re looking at creating longevity for Tongan judo at the Olympics.”
Major Morris said his students’ unit has been supportive and he’s grateful for the opportunities they’ve allowed Pte Faka’osi to pursue.
The Paris selections will be confirmed on June 24, 2024.