Ever since the Summer and Winter Olympics were split, there have been two sets of Olympic champions. But it didn't become so pronounced until post World War II, when the Winter and Summer Olympics began to be hosted by different countries, and then further in the '60s when they began holding them offset by two years. It's rare that an athlete will compete in both the Summer and Winter editions back to back. That's why it might surprise many people to learn that the Tonga shirtless flag bearer, who was the viral internet sensation of Brazil's opening ceremonies only two years ago, is back once again for the 2018 Olympics.
For those who need a reminder, that flagbearer's name is Pita Taufatofua, and he competed in the Summer Olympics for his country in Taekwondo. He had tried and failed to qualify for the 2008 and the 2012 games, and in 2016, he finally made it. In celebration, and because he was lucky enough to be designated his country's flagbearer, he turned out in traditional dress: a ta’ovala (which is a Tongan mat) and... well, we hope there was something under that mat because there was certainly nothing over anything else.
Here, let us help refresh your memory, shall we?
So, how is Taufatofua back again for the 2018 Olympics? There's nothing in the Winter Games that could possibly correspond to Taekwondo, is there?
The answer is no, there's not. When Taufatofua failed to medal in the Summer Games two years ago, he vowed to take up a new discipline and return to the Olympics with a new sport. So, he took up cross-country skiing. According to TIME, he told the Olympic Channel,
After Rio I decided to find the hardest sport possible, because I needed a new challenge, and the hardest sport possible was cross country skiing. You know look at the conditions, it’s like freezing, it’s negative a million degrees, and then you’ve got to put your body through something really challenging.
Even better: Taufatofua is the only competitor from his country for the Winter Olympics. (In fact, he's the second Tongan athlete to ever make the Winter Olympics, period.) You know what that means? He was the flagbearer!
Fans were bracing for disappointment though, as this is not Rio de Janeiro in the middle of August, with the beaches only a step away and the temperatures warm enough to wander around wearing little more than a mat. While the opening ceremony day got all the way up in the 40s (that's Fahrenheit, not Celsius), chances were that Taufatofua will be a bit more bundled up this time.
Or as he told New Zealand’s Stuff:
I want to still be alive for my race. It’s going to be freezing, so I will be keeping nice and warm.
But then he surprised us all! The only concession he made to the weather was that his mat was now floor length. But otherwise he was there, oiled to the gills, barechested as you please. I suppose if you're going to do back-to-back Olympic Games, you gotta give it your all.
The cross country event has four chances for Taufatofua to medal: the 15-km Skiathlon, the 15-km individual, the individual sprint and the 50-km mass start. He qualified via the individual sprint, so we assume he will definitely be competing in that event, if not all four. The Skiathon is the first event, which is scheduled to begin on Sunday, Feb. 11 at 1:15 a.m. ET. The individual sprint is scheduled to happen on Valentine's Day, Tuesday, Feb. 14, at 6 a.m. ET.
To learn more, visit teamusa.org. The Winter Olympics will air live starting February 8.