The Opening Ceremonies of the last Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro blew our beautiful expectations right out of the water. In a spectacle that included depictions of the history and culture of Brazil, performances highlighted the country’s landscapes, music and more, and even put a spotlight on their environmental conservation efforts.
But in addition to incredible athletes, supermodels and dancing, there was one unexpected standout: the greased-up Tongan flag bearer who stole the show:
Pita Taufatofua, who carried the Tongan flag and wore coconut oil in lieu of a shirt during the Opening Ceremonies, is back. But this time, he’s skiing his way to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
New Year, New Sport
Two years ago, Taufatofua represented Tonga in the taekwondo heavyweight division. Although he lost his opening bout, he counts the experience as a win because he raised awareness of his home country, a Polynesian archipelago that includes 169 islands.
After Rio, he had multiple modeling and acting offers thanks to his glistening torso. Instead, Taufatofua opted for a new challenge. He tried cross-country skiing and began training for PyeongChang. “I decided to find the hardest sport possible because I needed a new challenge,” he told Olympic Channel. “The goal was to do it in one year and we did it.”
Here’s one photo he posted to his Instagram account showing his adventures in skiing:
Incredibly, Taufatofua skied for the first time in his life last year. His practices look a lot different than those of other Winter Olympians. There is no snow on Tonga, so he had to practice on roller skis. Taufatofua shared this photo of himself roller-skiing on the beach:
As a result of an International Ski Federation ruling, Taufatofua was able to rack up most of his qualifying points racing on roller skis. Then, he headed to Iceland to complete his qualifying run.
Down to the wire, he qualified in the last race before the Olympic qualifying period ended. “On the last day of my Olympic qualification, at the end of the world, I said a little prayer before my race and then a miracle happened! :)” he wrote on Instagram:
He will cross-country ski in PyeongChang next month.
We now all have one more reason to look forward to the Winter Olympics. Taufatofua will definitely be there. But one question is still left unanswered: Will he wear a shirt for the PyeongChang Opening Ceremonies?