Who is Pita Taufatofua? Tonga's shirtless Olympics flag bearer a hit at opening ceremony
Pita Taufatofua, 37, carried the flag for Tonga for the third time in a row, after initially turning heads at the 2016 Rio Games
Social media couldn't have enough of the Tongan flag bearer who returned to the Olympics in Tokyo on Friday, July 23, all oiled up and shirtless.
Pita Taufatofua, 37, carried the flag for Tonga for the third time in a row, after initially turning heads at the 2016 Rio Games and then again at the 2018 Winter Olympics at Pyeongchang. The taekwondo specialist flaunted his physique by going topless and oiling up his muscles as he led the way for his country. Walking alongside him was Malia Paseka, who is hoping for a medal on the female side of the taekwondo event.
Fans on social media were awaiting the sinewy athlete's entry this year, and did not seem disappointed. "And just like that billions of women around the world took a big breath in and decided Tonga was their second team this Olympic Games… #olympics #TeamTonga," journalist Poppy Penny tweeted.
"Watching #Tokyo2020 opening ceremonies and while it’s good to see, I hope that everyone stays healthy and safe…particularly this guy from Tonga," one Twitter user wrote.
"***BREAKING*** TONGA HAS WON THE OLYMPICS. We can all go home now. #Olympics," another quipped.
"Finally the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Tonga man #OpeningCeremony," a comment read.
"Let’s be honest, this is the only reason we all watch the #OpeningCeremony #Olympics #Tokyo2020 #Tonga," a fan swooned.
"Thank you, flag-bearer from Tonga, for making watching the #OpeningCeremony worth it," another added.
Speaking to the New York Times earlier in the day, Taufatofua said he was still shocked by the reaction to his traditional outfit. “It was really a surprise to me,” he said in a telephone interview. “All of a sudden, within a day, the social media went through the roof. Who’s your manager? We need to talk. I didn’t even know what those words meant.”
Taufatofua, however, has embraced his popularity and is currently a motivational speaker and UNICEF ambassador. “The Olympics, to me, isn’t even about the athletes,” he told the newspaper. “I think we are just a representation of every single person on the planet trying to overcome something.”
Taufatofua has qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Games and will be looking to bring home Tonga's second Olympic medal in history. Competing in the men's 80+ kilogram category, his first bout is slated for Monday, July 26, against Vladislav Larin of the Russian Olympic Committee.
"When the Chef de Mission announced that the one officially chosen to be the flag bearer was from taekwondo I was like 'oh yeah, it will be Pita,' but to my surprise they said it would be me," Paseka told Radio New Zealand. "I was really happy and honored, but I was also quite shocked."
"I'm really excited but a bit nervous too because this is really new for me," she added. "I've been to many competitions before, but this is my first Olympic Games and I'm just thankful really for the opportunity to be representing my country and that they trust me to be the flagbearer."
That said, the first round of the taekwondo competition is set to commence Friday evening. Back in Rio 2016, both South Korea and China took home a pair of gold medals in the event, while Americans secured one bronze medal.