Bruno Banani, a 24-year-old man from the Pacific island of Tonga, hit the headlines after he was supposedly discovered by the Chemnitz underwear firm of the same name – and managers decided to sponsor his dreams of competing in the icy luge discipline at the 2014 Olympics.
But Der Spiegel magazine revealed last month that “Banani” was originally called Fuahea Semi and had been recruited by a German marketing firm as part of a PR stunt.
Yet Thomas Bach, a German International Olympic Committee vice president, said over the weekend that because the luger had a passport in his new name, he would be allowed to compete if he qualified.
“I think this is a perverse marketing idea,” Bach told ARD radio. “I think it’s pretty tasteless to change one’s name for a sponsor.”
Banani still needs to qualify though. Generally, only the world’s top 40 lugers – as determined in a series of qualifying races – make it into the Olympics, although exceptions are sometimes made for athletes from developing nations.
Banani’s Olympic dreams took a blow over the weekend when he had hoped to place at least in the middle ranks of the Luge World Championships in Saxony, but finished 34th out of 37 contestants.
His Tongan handlers, who have not responded to a series of emails from The Local, have said that the championships are just a tune-up event for Banani.
Germany did well at the championships with 28-year-old Tatjana Hüfner taking home a gold medal and the national team winning a relay race.