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Tongan swim hope making big splash

Tongan tank: Amini Fonua is training at Raumati pool before heading to the London Olympics in July.

Tonga might be surrounded by water but with the Pacific nation’s biggest pool being just 12.5 metres long with only two lanes it’s not surprising its citizens haven’t been setting the international swimming world on fire.

So Kiwi-raised Tongan Amini Fonua is likely to turn heads when he competes at the London Olympics this year.

Fonua, 22, has based himself in Raumati as he prepares for the Olympic Games, and was to fly to New Caledonia on Friday for this week’s Oceania Swimming Championships.

He will return to Raumati after the Oceanias to start intense training with coach Jon Winter before the Olympics in July and August.

“Well my dad is Tongan and my mum is English, so we grew up in Auckland City, but we had a very prevalent Tongan upbringing.

“We went to church all the time, and spoke it at home.

“Tongan raised, if you like.”

When he was 7, Fonua’s father bought a boat, and his mother decided that he had to learn to swim if he was to go out on the boat.

About two years later he started swimming competitively, and at 14 began breaking age group records in Auckland and nationally, as well as making New Zealand age group teams.

Four years ago, when Fonua was 18, Jon Winter became his coach and helped push him to the next level of swimming.

It was then that Winter encouraged Fonua to swim for Tonga, which had to be signed off by the International Swimming Federation, FINA.

Winter helped to organise a scholarship for Fonua to swim for Texas A&M University in the United States, where he has studied telecommunications for the past four years.

The university has 60,000 students, which is more than half the population of Tonga, and Fonua said he will be one of about six swimmers from the university competing at the Olympics.

In 2010 Fonua stunned Kiwi and Australian swimmers at the Oceania Swimming Championships, winning the 50m breaststroke title, which he will be looking to defend this week.

He also had a seventh place finish at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

He will return from New Caledonia in early June and get back into Olympic training with Winter, alongside members of the Raumati Swimming Club, of which Winter is head coach.

“I’m competing in the 100m breast and 50m free in London. I haven’t really thought about my goals yet.

“I think it will be to go as fast as I possibly can.”

Winter will be accompanying Fonua to the Olympics as head coach of the Tongan swim team, and said Fonua is a natural in the water.

“You have to see him in the water. It’s a sight to behold. He works really hard and it’s very exciting to see how far he has come.

“Tonga has one pool, at a hotel, which is about 12.5 metres long and has two lanes – that’s it.

“So it’s a pretty remarkable effort to be at the Olympics.”

Fonua has gained a rather large support crew while in Kapiti, mainly thanks to his good looks, Winter said.

“It’s funny actually, because some of the mums were picking up their children, but stuck around the other day because Amini was out there training.

“Maybe it’s the swimming they were impressed by, but I’m not too sure about that.”

Following the Olympics, Fonua will head back to Texas to complete his study, and is unsure of what his future will hold.

“I usually take it one step at a time, so I will have a good think about that after the Olympics.”

Ben Strang
Kapiti Observer

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