By Nick Butler

Bruno Banani is set to become the first ever Tongan athlete to compete in a Winter Olympics ©Bongarts/Getty ImagesDecember 28 - Tonga's Bruno Banani, who took up luge as a publicity stunt, has enjoyed a remarkable rise in which he is set to become the first ever athlete from his country to compete at a Winter Olympics.

The story revives memories of the success of the Jamaican bobsleigh team that qualified to compete at Calgary 1988, as luge is virtually unknown in the archipelago renowned not for ice and snow but instead for its sunshine and white sandy beaches.

Tonga does not have a particularly strong record in the Summer Olympics either,  having just a solitary silver medal from super heavyweight boxer Paea Wolfgramm from Atlanta 1996. 

But after finishing 28th out of 42 in a World Cup meeting in Park City, Utah earlier this month Banani has comfortably achieved the top 38 cut-off standard required to qualify for Sochi 2014.

This was confirmed by the International Luge Federation (FIL), which told AFP that "the athlete from Tonga has achieved all the qualification rules".

The success of Bruno Banani revives memories of the Jamaican bobsleigh team that competed at various Winter Olympics including Salt Lake City 2002 ©Getty ImagesThe success of Bruno Banani revives memories of the Jamaican bobsleigh team that competed at various Winter Olympics including Salt Lake City 2002 ©Getty Images

However, the rise of the athlete is all the more remarkable considering he only took up the sport as a publicity stunt after a marketing company persuaded him to change his name to Bruno Banani, the name of a German underwear manufacturer, and become part of the luge circuit.

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 a German newspaper in February 2012 after suspicions were raised by the naming coincidence along with Banani's reluctance to answer questions about his background.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is extremely sensitive to ambush marketing tactics as it seeks to protect its sponsors who have paid hundreds of millions for the right to advertise.

Thomas Bach, now the IOC President, even described it at the time as a "perverse" marketing idea which was of "bad taste".

However, by the time the deception was revealed, the athlete's name had been officially changed and he has competed using it for several years, consequently reducing the IOC's power to intervene.

In the time since, Banani has become an established and accepted member of the international luge circuit, while he has also raised the profile of sport in Tonga.

The genuine element to his rise has now been underlined by his qualification for Sochi 2014. 

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