Falun, Sweden (dpa) – Makeleta Stephan fell at the last turn in front of the packed main tribune but completed cross-country sprint qualifying in last place in Tonga’s debut at Nordic skiing world championships on Thursday.
Stephan, 36, completed the difficult 1.2 kilometres course in 7 minutes 29.78 seconds, far off the pace set by Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk with 3:24.89.
Germany-based Stephan was more than two minutes slower in 94th place than second last Juliana Tcaciova of Macedonia in front of a big crowd including Swedish King Carl XVI Gustav and Queen Silvia.
“The fall makes me very sad. (But) The people were really nice and really pushed me. I almost cried,” she said after barely pushing herself across the finish line.
“It was very tough. I thought ‘what am I doing here’ but then I just wanted to get to the finish. Now I will prepare for future races. This was a first experience.”
Stephan was in good company in her elimination from the competition, as American Kikkan Randall, a team sprint gold medallist and sprint silver medallist from 2009, also failed to make the top 30 and the knock-out stages.
The Pacific island state of Tonga made its winter sports debut on the big stage with luge slider Bruno Banani at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Tonga set up a ski federation last year with the aim of sending teams to the 2016 Winter Youth Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.