Do you remember where you were when Tongan flag bearer Pita Taufatofua and his coconut oil-coated abs went viral at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio? Well, we do and lucky for everyone, Pita is back (and shirtless) at the Opening Ceremony!
The hunky native of the Polynesian kingdom will be making his debut as a cross-country skier this time around — but before he hits the slopes he once again represented his country by covering his abs with coconut oil and carrying his flag proudly in PyeongChang. (Side note: coconut oil can also help with chapped lips and dry skin during the winter months, so Pita was just thinking ahead). However, don’t expect him to take off his shirt again during the games.
“I want to still be alive for my race. It’s going to be freezing, so I will be keeping nice and warm,” he told New Zealand’s Stuff. Pita will be the sole representative of Tonga at the Olympics after transitioning from tae kwon do to the winter sport two years ago. The 34-year-old miraculously qualified during the final weekend of trials after finishing last in his previous seven races.
“People don’t see the hard work that goes behind,” he told NBC Sports. “They just see the shiny guy that walks with the flag.” He went on to explain how he drove three days through a blizzard and an avalanche with his team to reach his goal. “I decided to find the hardest sport possible because I needed a new challenge,” Pita added. “The goal was to do it one year, and we did it.”
Back in Rio, Pita made history as the first Tongan to compete in the martial art at the Olympics. However, his dreams were short-lived after he was eliminated in his first bout against Iranian Sajjad Mardani. Soon after, he announced his intentions to train as a cross-country skier.
“I’m going to be taking my Olympic dream one step further,” he said at the time. “My goal is to let people see, if I can do it, they can do it. The goal is to hunt down that Olympic medal at the 2018 Olympics.” Surprisingly, Pita is not the first Tongan to compete at the international level. In 2014, his countryman Bruno Banani (real name: Fuahea Semi) placed 32nd in men’s luge.
Before pursuing gold medals, Pita received a degree in engineering and is currently working on a master’s degree. And just days before the Opening Ceremony, Pita was still out on the slopes training! “The last two weeks have been a blur. I don’t think it had really sunk in what we collectively have done, he wrote. “But walking past the check-in counter here in London’s Heathrow airport it hit me. I felt the emotion. I felt joy, I felt relief and I felt pride in what we accomplished in such a short time.”
He continued, “Without all the people that have supported us on this journey this would not be possible. I can’t even begin to express my gratitude to all of you. Where would I start? Perhaps the best way is to let you all know that we did it. You are all a part of this story. We are taking Tonga to the Winter Olympics, and we did it together!” Go Pita, go!