As a small South Sea Island the Kingdom of Tonga has for a long time nourished the desire to take part in the Winter Olympic Games. Motivated by the legendary story of the Jamaican bob sleigh team from the 1980’s came the idea to try the luge. Not so simple when you think that the average Tongan only knows ice from cubes or ice cream. Help was needed and Her Royal Highness Princess Salote Pilolevu Tuita of Tonga looked no further than the number one nation in luge, Germany. She approched makai europe, a german event agency, and tasked them to organize everything and find a suitable tongan athlete for the mission.
After trials in Tonga that lasted several days the 21 year old student Fuahea Semi from the island of Eua was selected. No one could have foreseen it, but it was an inspirational choice, a real natural talent.
But without any financial support of overseas partners it would probably only be a short trip. Mathias Ihle from makai Europe GmbH came up with the unique marketing strategy of changing the successful candidate’s name to a that of a sponsoring company. One of his first choices and one of his biggest hopefuls was the german underwear company “bruno banani”. They are well known for clever marketing, public relations, sponsoring and being open to new ideas.
Under a blanket of secrecy – because the IOC would not be to enthused with Mathias ambush marketing strategy – the Tongan Royal Family also agreed. After the approval of Fuahea Semi and his family they arranged the change of his documents including birth certificate and passport to his new name: Bruno Banani.
From being laughed at by the luge establishment and thought of as mad Bruno soon changed their minds. After only five months of hard training, far from home, Bruno Banani stood a realistic chance of taking part in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. No luger has ever managed to achieve so much in such a short space of time. Everybody was very impressed and after his first international race the german underwear company »bruno banani« was very interested in his story and the proposal to sponsor the namesake. That set the wheels in motion.
The dream however was shattered after a dramatic crash on the last qualifying run in Königssee. Luckily this was not to be the end of the story! Having made a name for himself within the sport and media Bruno Banani was to be given another chance. Georg Hackl (luge idol) and Norbert Loch (German national luge coach) were so impressed that they offered to take the charming Tongan under german team’s wing for the next seasons. After only two more years Bruno qualified for the World Championships and was able to compete up amongst the best 35 lugers in the world.
When however news of the name change broke media from around the world jumped on the story. The IOC President Dr. Thomas Bach (in those days than vice president) called the name change “perverse” and was very upset. But legally he could do nothing about this unwelcome and free advertising impact during the Olympics. Bruno’s popularity did no harm. Cheered on by a crowd of fans he collected at each race points for Olympic qualification…
The rest is history.