An ill-timed leg injury has done little to keep Bond University track sprinter Babe Antonio Vaitohi from his Olympic dream.
Next month the 100m and 200m flyer will compete in the Pacific Games in the Solomon Islands, which serves as an Olympic qualifier.
But the road to Honiara hasn’t been without drama.
Two months out from the biggest meet of his life, a small tear in his patella tendon disrupted his typically vigorous training schedule, preventing him from engaging in weight-bearing activities and, most crucially, running.
But Vaitohi and his Gold Coast-based coach Tony Fairweather remain confident in his ability to recover for the Pacific Games and keep intact his goal to represent Tonga at the world’s biggest sporting event in Paris in 2024.
“Regardless of this injury, I know that I’m going to do everything I can to get back to where I need to be,” he said defiantly.
And he’s had an intriguing sporting journey so far.
Vaitohi was born on the Pacific Island of Tonga and split his time between his home nation and New Zealand until the age of 12 when he moved to Australia and found his love for sprinting.
Bouncing between the two island nations as a child, Vaitohi’s path appeared to lie not in sprinting, but in the Pacific Island’s chief sporting passion of rugby, a sport that runs in his family’s blood.
“Actually, it was through rugby that I identified my potential in sprinting,” he said.
“My dad saw how fast I would run on the field and out of interest he encouraged me to give sprinting a try.
“I still play rugby here and there, but track is my main sport and my primary goal now.”
And so it was that at 13-years-old, just one year after taking up competitive sprinting, he claimed his first Australian championships in the junior 100m and 200m, besting competitors with years more experience.
The now 20-year-old is completing his Bachelor of Sport Management at Bond University with hopes to continue working within his chosen discipline.
The Pacific Games represent Vaitohi’s best chance of securing a Team Tonga tracksuit and of booking a ticket to Paris for the 2024 Olympics, despite the urgency of his injury recovery and the vagaries of selection.
“Qualifications work differently for some of the Pacific countries,” he explained.
“Due to the lack of funding and sports development in some of the Pacific nations it’s only the best athlete per country that gets sent.”
Vaitohi’s current 100m times range from 10.7 to 10.8 seconds, but at the Pacific Games, he aims to lower that mark considerably.
“With my ultimate goal of making the Olympics, I hope to achieve a time of 10.2 or faster,” he said.
“In my opinion there’s no greater achievement than representing your country at the Olympics and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got to make it happen.”