Meet The Oiled-Up Tongan Going For His Third Crack At Olympic Glory

Pita Taufatofua went viral at the last Games for his eye-catching exterior
06:55, 04 Mar 2020

Now you might not recognise the name Pita Taufatofua, but you’ll likely know him. A supreme athlete, he will return to the Olympics this summer. A supreme celebrity too, he is better known as the shirtless, oiled-up Tongan. Yep, that’s him.

First competing at Rio four years ago, he carried his nation’s flag while smothered in oil. Of course, he went viral and his picture was everywhere. Despite the obvious chill in the air, he braved the cold at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in South Korea to again go shirtless while proudly parading for his nation.

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Gaining notoriety after ditching his shirt during the Parade of Nations in the past two Games, the 36-year-old has qualified for Tokyo after winning Taekwondo gold in the M+80kg qualifying event on Saturday.

“Looks like we’re going to need more coconut oil,” Taufatofua joked on social media this week. “Tonga is going to Tokyo.”

Beating Papua New Guinea’s Steven Tommy in the Oceania qualifying event, there were actually only two competitors in their weight class and so Taufatofua is aiming to participate in an additional sport at the same Olympics. A jack of all trades when it comes to competing, he represented his nation in Taekwondon in Rio in 2016, before switching to cross-country skiing for the Winter Games in 2018. Not content with that, he is now trying his hand at kayaking.

"I just love being out on the ocean, being out at sea. It's a sport that excites me. I haven't learned it yet, but it excites me at the same time," he told CNN last year. No doubt he’ll have his top off during this pursuit too. "I want to be a sprint kayaker," he told BBC Sport. "It's a sport that's close to my heart as it's what my ancestors did for thousands of years when they colonised the Polynesian islands."

Despite injuring his rib earlier this month he has been attempting to qualify in kayaking but struggled to keep upright and straight. However, he’ll keep going no doubt, such is his determination to feature. And failing that, he’ll still appear in Taekwondo.

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It’s not been plain sailing for Taufatofua. Growing up with six siblings and his parents in a one-bedroom house, the family lost their home in a tropical storm. "Life then was tough, we had no running water and very little space," he recalled in the same interview with BBC Sport. "I remember that my idea of being rich was when I would have enough money to choose what I wanted to eat."

In 2018, he met royalty when Prince Harry and wife Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, embarked on a tour of the Pacific Islands. However, he was not allowed to get ready until he had helped his dad . "I told my father I'd been invited and he just said 'Oh that's nice - let's go to the bush because we've work to do,’” Pita explained 

"I said: 'But I've got to get ready!' and he insisted: 'No, not until the cows have had water.’" From less-than humble beginnings, he continues to strive for more and dream big, even beyond his domination of social media.

A UNICEF ambassador, he has used his talent and fame for good, working with homelessness charities while also training homeless children independent living skills as he splits his time between Brisbane and his homeland. If that wasn’t cool and noble enough, he also works to raise awareness of global warming and boasts an engineering degree.

He’s so much more than just the oiled-up Tongan and will be desperate to write his name into Olympics folklore by winning his nation’s first gold medal at this summer’s Games.