The 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics are finally here, bringing together legendary athletes from all over the world to compete for the gold. And it’s not just U.S. Olympians that have attracted American viewers’ attention. You may recall the Tongan taekwondo and cross-country skier Pita Taufatofua, who went viral at the beginning of the 2016 Summer Olympics as the country’s flag bearer, and now he’s back to take part in this year’s competition. And yes, he’s still shirtless.
ICYMI, during the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Taufatofua was Tonga’s flag bearer during the Parade of Nations. He wore only a ta’ovala (a Tongan mat that wraps around one’s waist), and his shirtless, oiled-up look quickly made him go viral online. Taufatofua went on to be eliminated during the first round of taekwondo tournaments that year, but as it turns out, he’s a multi-talented athlete. In late 2016, he announced his plans to master and compete in cross-country skiing, and by 2018, he narrowly qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. In doing so, he became the second Tongan ever to compete in the winter games.
This year, the 37-year-old (who also works as an engineer and UNICEF ambassador) is competing in taekwondo for Tonga once again. He returned as flag bearer during the 2021 Olympic opening ceremony, and celebrated by posting a celebratory TikTok sporting his signature shirtless look. “Is this how tik tok works?” he captioned the video.
His qualification is a big deal, especially with COVID-19 restrictions in place. "We haven't been able to go to any other countries to do any competition to compete against other people," Taufatofua recently told USA Today. "There were other challenges, but there's no victory without first going through the battles."
This year’s Olympics have been mired in controversy, as Tokyo faces its fourth state of emergency amid a surge of coronavirus cases, and Japan as a whole contends with low vaccination rates. However, Taufatofua’s appearance at the opening ceremony stirred plenty of excitement online, as hundreds of people took to Twitter to gush over his return.
Here’s hoping Taufatofua is a staple of the Olympics for years to come!