Prank lands Vili in Paris

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Paris beckons … Viliame Ratului is all smiles after qualifying for the 2024 Olympic Games during the Sail Sydney tournament in Australia. Picture: SUPPLIED

What started off as an innocent prank at the age of nine for sailor Vili Ratulu may have ended up being an opportunity to attend the pinnacle of sporting events, the Olympic Games, in Paris, France this year.

The Vaturova, Cakaudrove lad, with maternal links to Naroi, Moala, Lau, said his love for the sport started when he was nine years old growing up in Savusavu, Vanua Levu.

“At that time my friends and I would sneak up to the marina where sailors would rest after competition in the morning. We would take their boats and return them before they went out sailing again in the afternoon,” Vili said.

Vili said it was during one of these daring stints that they caught the attention of national junior sailors coach, Geoff Taylor.

“Our first thought was we would be getting a telling off or worse a hiding but nothing like that happened.

Instead, we were told that everything we were doing while taking out the boat was wrong, and before we knew it, we were in our first lesson about sailing,” he shared.

For young Vili, Taylor was a beacon of hope and the glimmer of a new passion being born in this young boy from Savusavu.

Taylor took Vili and a few friends and he taught them not only how to sail but also how to be disciplined and focused athletes.

Vili shared that this was a turning point for him as Taylor, who lived close to where he lived, would pick him up every Saturday and teach him and his friends how to be better sailors.

“This was 15 years ago, and with each year I fell more in love with the sport especially with the guidance of coaches like Mr Taylor and Tony Philips,” Vili said.

The former Savusavu Secondary School student said after completing his education he went straight to work for Olympian Tony Philip’s company, Tradewinds Marine Group.

“Both Mr Taylor and Mr Philips were very encouraging about my participation in sailing which is how I got to represent Fiji at the 2014 Oceania Championship in New Caledonia,” Vili said.

This was his first international event and after that everything just fell into place culminating in his qualifying a spot for Fiji at the 2024 Olympic Game.

The journey to the Olympics began with Vili representing Fiji at the 2014 Oceania Championship in New Caledonia, marking his first international foray.

“Taking part in the Olympics is every athlete’s dream,” Vili asserted, challenging the notion that rugby is the sole path for an iTaukei boy.

Despite Vili’s financial background and the expenses incurred taking up the sport of sailing, he was determined to make it.

He went out asking for work to help him raise money, businesses in Savusavu also noticed Vili’s hardwork and passion for the sport and soon they jumped on board to help finance him in the sporty of sailing.

“The sport is expensive, with yearly expenses for boat maintenance,” Vili acknowledged.

“But finding the right support group is crucial, and I was fortunate to have Mr. Taylor and Mr. Philips financially and technically supporting me.”

Vili said at the moment he had to catch two buses to attend training at the Vuda Marina and that he was looking for a gym in order to work out.

“To get to a gym I have to catch three buses which puts a strain on me financially so I am still looking out for a gym that is closer to my training venue or along the way,” he said.

Vili’s youth coach Taylor said he was very proud of the achievement by Vili to make the Olympics.

“We would like to congratulate him and wish him well in his journey to making the Olympics,” Geoff said.

Taylor said they were hoping to send Vili to attend several regatta’s in New Zealand and Australia in the upcoming weeks as part of his preparations for the Olympics.

Vili, who has five sisters and a brother, said his family is yet to witness him sailing.

“My mother has never watched me sail or compete at a sailing regatta’s but she is always supportive despite not knowing what I do in the sport,” he added.

“I told my mother; this is the first of many Olympics and hopefully one day she will get to watch me do what I love doing and that is sailing,” Vili said.

Vili joined teammate Sophia Morgan, where the duo competed at the Sail Sydney Tournament in Australia where they secured spots for Fiji in the Olympics.

Vili and Sophia join Fiji’s Rugby 7s men’s and women’s teams in the upcoming Olympics in Paris, France from July 26 to August 11.

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