Tongan flag-bearer Pita Taufatofua, aka our favourite thing about the summer Olympics in Rio di Janeiro, is back in all his glory, braving freezing temperatures to once again show off his oiled-up, shirtless rig at the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Taufatofua first set social media alight back in 2016 when he strode into the Rio opening ceremony, waving his country’s flag and wearing a traditional ta’ovala mat around his waist and with generous amounts of oil glistening on his torso.
If you thought for one second that he wouldn’t repeat the same trick again at the Winter Olympics, then you were mistaken, son. After strutting into the stadium, where the temperature was hovering below zero, he elicited wild cheers from the crowd, and later told the press:
“I won’t freeze. I am from Tonga. We sailed across the Pacific. This is nothing. It’s a little bit warmer being in Rio than in here … but anytime you get to represent your country is a good time.”
— Lammert de Bruin (@lammert) February 9, 2018
Taufatofua who competed in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics, will be competing in cross-country skiing in South Korea – no mean feat, considering that there is no snow in Tonga. In fact, he is the first male athlete from the nation to ever qualify for the event.
He told reporters that after Rio, he wanted to find the “hardest possible sport” because he needed a new challenge. Given the lack of snow at home, he has spent less than four weeks training on the white stuff, and had to improvise for the rest of the time. He told CNN:
“When you’ve got no snow, it’s really hard to learn a snow sport so we looked at all the different ways I could mimic being on snow without actually being on snow. We found roller skis, I’d strap planks of wood to my feet and run on the beach, just to try and find that balance point, and I’d watch a lot of YouTube and see what the professionals were doing, and I’d try and mimic that mentally in my head.”
If you think that sounds bad, you’d be right. Taufatofua has described roller skiing as “the worst thing ever invented”, adding “it’s kind of like roller blading but not – you can’t stop, the only way to stop is to fall and I learnt that the hard way many, many a time.”
He told CNN that his dream was just to qualify for the sport. “I’ve come in as the last seed so I think I’m the last ranked person there, so if I get a gold medal, I’ll be happy,” he said. “If I come last, I’ll be happy. I made it to the Olympics and I got Tonga to the Olympics.”
Pita Taufatofua, we salute you, you bloody legend.
-5 degrees? No worries.
— 7Olympics (@7olympics) February 9, 2018
Image: Getty Images / Tim Clayton