Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership

Become A Member
Dublin: 11°C Tuesday 18 May 2021

The strange story of the Tongan winter Olympian who turned out to be a German marketing gimmick

It’s not quite Cool Runnings.

Bruno Banani aka Fuahea Semi.
Bruno Banani aka Fuahea Semi.
Image: JENS MEYER/AP/Press Association Images

WHEN AN APPARENTLY true story that resembles a Hollywood movie makes the news, people take notice.

When the protagonist of the story is named after a company that makes underwear, it’s even even better.

The story was that ‘Bruno Banani’, 24, the son of a coconut farmer from the South Pacific nation of Tonga, wanted to be the country’s first ever competitor at a winter Olympic games.

Doing so would fulfill the wish of the Tongan Princess, who wanted nothing more than to prove that the people of her tropical island could succeed among ice and snow.

The German luge team — world champions — apparently took Banani under their wing. And surprise! Banani’s sponsor was none other than his namesake German producer of undergarments: Bruno Banani. It seemed like fate, and the German press was fascinated.

But the fairytale story was brought crashing to reality by an investigation by Der Spiegel (unfortunately not online at present), which revealed that Banani was not, in fact, Banani.


The Guardian reports that ‘Banani’ is not a complete figment of someone’s vivid (yet unoriginal) imagination. Parts of his story are true. He is a 24-year-old Tongan and did attend a “casting” session on the islands in 2008, hosted by the German luge champion Isabel Barschinski to fulfill the Princess’ dream.

But that’s where the similarities end. ‘Banani’ is actually Fuahea Semi, the son of a cassava farmer. Seeing their chance (an unknown underdog), a marketing firm called Makai stepped in, and somehow arranged for Semi’s passport to be issued in the name of Bruno Banani.

Because the first Tongan winter Olympian is just the marketing gimmick a pair of underwear needs.

Whether the International Olympic Committee, which has very strict rules about sponsorship, allows Banani to compete at the 2014 Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi remains to be seen.

Read more at Business Insider

Season’s greetings: O’Rourke kicks off Olympic year in Vienna

Column: This Super Bowl rematch is anything but trashy

Published with permission from:

Business Insider
Business Insider is a business site with strong financial, media and tech focus.

Read next: