He grew up in Papua New Guinea where he began swimming at the age of 5, then stopped upon returning to the Cook Islands at the age of 11, due to the absence of a pool. He then resumed swimming in 2006, while studying for an honours degree in business management at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, which he completed in 2010.
With no Olympic-sized pool to train in, Okotai initially practiced by swimming in a lagoon, where he had to "deal with the hazards of trigger fish, coral heads and ocean currents". He later trained in the Muri Beach Club Hotel pool on Rarotonga. The pool measured 17 metres, and Okotai had to swim among tourists.
He finished third and last in heat 1, his time of 1:20.20 the slowest of all competitors who finished the race, and almost eight seconds slower than second-slowest Mohammed Al-Habsi, of Oman. This prompted Okotai to comment: "I hope I'm not Eric the Eel."
- "Tropical idyll far from ideal when swimming for gold", The Age, March 25, 2007
- "Lagoon his training ground", Herald Sun, March 24, 2007
- "Games also mean coming in last", International Herald Tribune, August 23, 2008
- "Olympics-Swimming-Men's 100m breaststroke heats results", Reuters, August 9, 2008