Figure skater Adam Rippon stole my heart last night, but the OG star of the Winter Olympics is none other than Pita Taufatofua, the Tongan flag bearer who set the Internet aflame in 2016 when he performed shirtless at the 2016 Rio Olympics Opening Ceremony. Taufatofua made his oiled-up return on Friday for the 2018 Winter Olympics' opening ceremony in PyeongChang, and it was just as spectacular as it was two years ago. Of course, this time Taufatoua had to take his clothes off in frigid weather, not that that fazed him one bit.
The Today Show sat down with Taufatoua to find out a little about his Winter Olympics debut, as well as to catch up on all the flag-bearing and body-oiling he's been up to over the last few years. First up in the interview, though, they asked how he was able to handle the PyeongChang winter chill, since it was about 27 degrees during the Opening Ceremony and the stadium where the ceremony took place was under-heated, according to Deadspin. Not that such trifling matters could bother a being as celestrial as Taufatoua, of course. "I wasn't cold at all," he told Today, adding. "When you're from Polynesia, the warmth comes from inside-out, not outside-in." I am sitting in the sun in 75-degree Florida wearing a t-shirt and I am still cold. Americans are doing something wrong.
Weather-related queries out of the way, Today turned their attention toward how Taufatoua even made it to PyeongChang, considering his sport, taekwondo, isn't a winter event. Apparently, Taufatoua is a man of many talents (obviously), and he was so invested in showing the world his slick torso once again that he picked up cross-country skiing, as one does. He'd never even seen snow until recently. "I saw snow a year and a half before [starting to train] — but not in Tonga," he told Today.
In fact, Taufatoua only spent about a year training before making it to the Olympics as a skier. "It still feels quite strange actually being here, because it took me 20 years to get to Rio, and just one year to get here,” he told Olympic.org. Taufatoua is now only the second athlete from a Pacific nation to compete in the Winter Games, and Tonga's first cross-country skier; he's also the first athlete from Tonga to compete in both the Summer and Winter Games. "It’s just an honor. I mean, how many countries in the Pacific get to go to a Winter Games?" he told Olympic.org.
All this is quite impressive, and it's even more impressive when you consider how hard it was for Taufatoua, who was born in Australia, to make it to the Olympics in the first place. Taufatoua was the first Tongan taekwondo athlete to compete in the Summer Games, and once he finally made it there, he lost his opening match. Just a few months later, the 34-year-old decided to make it to the Winter Games in one year, in a new sport. “People don’t see the hard work that goes [on] behind [the scenes],” Taufatoua told the Olympic Channel in January. “They just see the shiny guy that walks with the flag. I decided to find the hardest sport possible because I needed a new challenge. The goal was to do it [in] one year, and [I] did it.”
The 34-year-old faced financial struggles in addition to physical ones, in his quest to make it the Winter Olympics, eventually launching a GoFundMe that netted him $24K in donations. Luckily, that helped him get to PyeongChang, and, more importantly, onto our television screens once more. Even Stephen Colbert is happy about it: