Pita Taufatofua, Tongan Flag Bearer: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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Flag bearer Pita Taufatofua of Tonga
leads the team during the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on February 9, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.

Pita Taufatofua has done it again.

Just as he did in Rio, the Tongan athlete entered Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium during Friday’s Opening Ceremonies shirtless and with copious amounts of oil covering his body.

Twitter went into a frenzy in 2016 when the Tongan Tae Kwon Do star showed off his oiled-up pecks, and this year is no different. Taufatofua is once again making headlines for his flashy entrance, and has inspired yet another collective meltdown on the Internet.

But what sport is Taufatofua competing in at the Winter Olympics? How many people are competing for his country, which is a nation of just 171,000 inhabitants? Why did he decide to pursue the Olympics once again?

Read on to learn more about Pita Taufatofua.


1. He Is the Only Tongan at This Year’s Games & the First Tongan to Appear in Both Winter and Summer Olympics

In December 2016, Taufatofu announced his intentions to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics via a video.

In the video, the Tongan athlete says, “I’m going to be taking my Olympic dream one step further… 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.”

The list of Tongan athletes to compete in the winter Olympics is not a long one. In 2014, Bruno Banani was named the first Tongan to compete in a Winter Olympics. He placed 32nd in the men’s luge.


2. He Learned to Ski on a Beach

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Taufatofua competed in Taekwondo. He was eliminated in the opening round of competition.

This time around, he will compete as a cross-country skier. Taufatofua only started training in the sport last year.

Which of the two sports does Taufatofua find more difficult? He tells ABC, “[Cross-country skiiing] is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Taekwondo is intense, someone’s trying to kick your head in. Skiing, you have pain for an hour. Do you like short pain or long pain? But I love them both.”


3. He Says “This Is Nothing” of South Korea’s Freezing Temperatures

Weather seems to have no effect on Taufatofua. In an interview with ABC, the athlete said, “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.”


4. He Was Born In, and Currently Lives In, Australia

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Taufatofua was born in Australia in 1983, but shortly after he was born, his family moved back to Tonga.

According to The Cut, he spent his childhood in Tonga. When he was just a boy, Pita
lost one of his sister’s to cancer. He tells coconet.tv, “I still have memories of it. I still remember the day we had her funeral. At that age I felt the sadness from everyone else around. Because I was so young I didn’t have a full grasp of what death was. But what I do remember was the sadness of the people around me, my family and everyone else. She was a student at Queen Salote college at the time, she was only 12.”

Taufatfua’s mother is Australian and British, and his father is from Tonga. His father received his phD from Australian University, which inspired him to take academics seriously, as well. Pita explains, “Even though my parents were poor they managed to get us and themselves through university with 10 degrees, 2 P.H.D’s and 3 Masters between us. The youngest, JT was the last of us to get through and all the pressure was on him. He’s the genius in our family – he graduated with a dual degree in Mechatronics engineering and Physics, 1st class honours.”


5. He Studied Engineering at University

In addition to pursuing his many athletic ambitions, Taufatofua studied engineering. As of 2016, he was working on finishing his Master’s degree.

In whatever downtime he has left, Taufatofua also advocates for children’s rights. On his Go Fund Me Page for the Winter Olympics (which has raised over $25,000 to date) Taufatofua reveals that he worked for 15 years counceling homeless youth. He continues, “My goal is to motivate and inspire people to reach for the best within them and I do that through setting seemingly ‘Impossible’ goals and then moving mountains to achieve them.”