© Ken Shigematsu
Through sport I learnt the importance of training, and that you can overcome adversity and challenges by having self-discipline and being strong in both body and mind. I learnt that failure is never failure unless you quit, and quitting will never help you achieve your dreams.
Sport can change the world. This is because in the realm of sport, we can all compete on a level playing field. In the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games, I felt a spirit of togetherness with all other participants. The Olympics bring together people from various countries, and we compete as individuals, compete our hardest, and respect each other as friends. Then everyone watching us has admiration. When that happened, I felt that the world had come together for the common good, and we had done something to make the world a better place.
“Olympian” to me means more than just being an athlete who has competed in the Olympic Games. I think an “Olympian” is a way of thinking. In my opinion, anyone who can reach the highest level of thinking in their own area of life can be an “Olympian”. Being an “Olympian” does not mean winning over others in sport, it means improving yourself in any area of life and giving your absolute best to be better than you were than yesterday. In other words, anyone can be a true “Olympian”.
And whatever an athlete does on their competitive life, at some point it has an end. Our careers end but the message continues to future generations. Millions of people watching us athletes can learn the importance of overcoming adversity, and of being persistent. The message I want to keep sharing is that you cannot be afraid of starting something new, and that every single person not only has dreams but also has the capability to make those dreams come true.
For that reason, it is important to promote clean sport. Athletes spend their lives training to get a chance to compete in the Olympics, stand gloriously on the podium and receive a medal. But what happens if one of them has been cheating everyone? The one who came in fourth misses out on their moment of glory. The greatest accomplishment for an athlete is an Olympic medal, and when someone gets that because they were cheating, they not only steal that moment from someone deserving, but at the same time they also steal other athletes’ soul. That type of cheating is unforgivable, so I really hope the cheats get caught.
Anti-doping is about encouraging people to respect the morals of humanity beyond the sporting field and of society. Anti-doping is not just about not breaking the rules and not about finding perfect people. I think it means communicating with people about the importance of their integrity, the humanity within themselves, while getting them to respect that humanity and social morals. That is what anti-doping is really about.
© Pita Taufatofua
I have many great role models in my life. I can never forget the moment when I met them.
In 1996 I had two really important role models. One was Jonah Lomu. He is from Tonga, but he played for the New Zealand national rugby team, wearing number 11. My second role model was Paea Wolfgramm. He was the only Tongan ever to get an Olympic medal. When he flew back from the Atlanta 1996 Games, I waited at the side of the road for hours to see him, holding a little piece of paper that I had written the letter “P” for “Paea”. When Paea finally passed by, he noticed me and waved at me. At that moment I decided in my mind that I was going to be an Olympian one day. That was the first time I decided to be an Olympian.
For me, the most important thing for a role model is that they have strong spirits and magnetic personalities. What makes Jonah Lomu great to me was not just that he was an outstanding, famous athlete. He was always kind and gentle to others and calm but strong in sport. What I learnt from Paea was that it was possible for someone without much to accomplish great things. More than anything, what stands out about both is their wonderful spirit. The sporting achievements only come after that.
I also have others who I call role models in my life – my mother and father. When I could not qualify for the Beijing 2008 Games and when I was recovering from an injury, my mother taught me the importance of humanity. She said it did not matter what happened at the competition. What matters is that you presented your best, and that you left everything inside that ring. Also, when the British royal family came to Tonga and I was invited to be part of the event, I happily told my father about it right away. He said to me, “That is great son, but the first thing we have to do is to water our cows” – Be humble, this is what I learnt from my father.
I was able to become an Olympian because I had a number of role models who I could respect as individuals. Just like them, I also hope to be someone who can spread the message that everyone has the potential to gain great knowledge and support.
© Japan Anti-Doping Agency
To help support children and their dreams, I now serve as the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for the Pacific. The signing ceremony of my acceptance for this was taken place at my old primary school. As I was ending my speech, a child came up to me and looked at me, and he said, “I am going to be an Olympian”. I looked at him and I said, “I was you. Once upon a time I was you”.
In the same way that the true athletes had become my absolute role models, I then realised that I am now in the position of being a positive influencer for children.
I never force anyone to become anything. I want to give children the bravery to chase their own dreams, so they can become what it is that they were naturally always going to become. Dreams are not given to you by others. Everyone has a dream from the moment they are born, and everyone has also been blessed with the ability to make these dreams come true. All I am saying is “Yes, you can do it”.
I worked at a homeless shelter for children for 15 years. I learnt from them just how strong the human spirit can be, how you can go through the worst possible circumstances in life and turn things around. I learned from them so many things, and now I am passing those messages on to thousands, even millions of people.
© Ken Shigematsu
I am an athlete and an Olympian, and I will always be that for life. It is in my blood. It is part of me.
My next dream is to be the first athlete to compete in three different, unrelated Olympic sporting events over three different Olympic Games. Already I have done two, so now in the Tokyo 2020 Games I want to try one more time to compete in an Olympic event. It will be tough to accomplish, but that is what makes it exciting.
We see many athletes get discouraged and have problems after they are finished with their competitive careers. When you stop competing in sport, it is a transition to the next stage in your life, and dreams do not end until you die. I am fortunate to experiencing the joy of achieving my goals, and now I think it is everyone else’s turn to accomplish their goals. Seeing others achieving success fuels my passion, so I hope I can help people make their dreams come true.
I would also like to help people see just how sport can be unifying. Ensuring a level playing field to compete with fair rules can bring about peace across the world. Sport also provides people with confidence and strength. By encouraging and promoting sport that is based on fairness and justice, we are investing in the future of people and of humanity.
We have to protect the “humanity” inside us. In this world we live in, we tend to leave our humanity behind. Facing up to environmental problems, respecting others instead of being hostile each other. I think this mentality can lead our world in the right direction. And I believe that sport has the power to elevate this humanity.
© Ken Shigematsu
Overcoming adversity and taking on challenges with a strong sense of desire. Failure is never a failure unless you quit on your dreams. I learnt these things growing.
Everyone tends to think that the most important thing for an athlete is their body. But sport is about spirit, your mind is next, and the body is the last. When I wake up to go for training, it is my mind that gives me an order for my body to move. When I had injuries, and when I had no money or anything else, my spirit told me “Keep going. You’re an Olympian”. I was able to achieve my goals mainly because my spirit was strong. Even with various problems I am encountered do not affect me negatively because I think now I have been tested and know just how much I can take and keep moving forward.
What an athlete does in competition ends. What continues into the future starts after the competition. Thousands, even millions of people who are watching us now have an opportunity to be an “Olympian” in their own field in life whether that is sport, music, academics, or any other arena. What matters is that they put into practice the same things, the same lessons that they learnt from us athletes. Even when we die, and our bodies are gone, the spirit gets passed down and lives on. Sport is a vehicle to present a message. Sport ends, but the message continues. Just like I believe that all of my role models who played true continue to help me, continue to inspire me, I do hope one day my spirit will inspire other people. That is the true meaning of sport for everyone, for humanity.
Born in Australia, raised in Tonga. After graduating from high school, earned an engineering degree in Brisbane, Australia, continued to live in Brisbane and worked at a facility that supports the independence of homeless people.
Made his first Olympic appearance in Taekwondo in the men’s over-80kg category at Rio 2016, and served as the flagbearer for Tonga at the Opening Ceremony.
More than anything, when I’m playing volleyball, I try to have no fear. To continue to play hard and not fear making mistakes, I always try to play with a smile on my face, staying positive at all times no matter what the situation.
Sport itself is something unique. I genuinely think that sport is a common language that everyone in the world can understand and has a feel for – that is sport. People engage with sport on different levels.
It’s been about six months since we got our gold medal in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. When I look back at that experience with a cooler head, I’m really glad that I stuck at it with persistence and never gave up.