Pita Taufatofua

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Pita Taufatofua
Pita Taufatofua Rio2016.jpg
Taufatofua at the 2016 Summer Olympics
Personal information
Full namePita Nikolas Taufatofua
Nickname(s)Tonga Flag Bearer
National teamTonga
CitizenshipTongan
Born (1983-11-05) 5 November 1983 (age 37)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
EducationTonga Side School
Tonga High School
Saint Peter's Lutheran College
Height1.92 m (6 ft 3+12 in)
Weight100 kg (220 lb)
Sport
SportTaekwondo
Cross-country skiing
Coached byVasini Piu
Paul Sitapa
(Both for Taekwondo)[1]

Pita Nikolas Taufatofua (born 5 November 1983) is a Tongan athlete in taekwondo and skiing. He is also a UNICEF ambassador and motivational speaker and lives in Brisbane, Australia.[2][3]

Taufatofua became internationally famous after appearing in a traditional Tongan taʻovala wrapped around his waist, with his chest bared and oiled as Tonga's flagbearer in the 2016 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.[4] He went on to reprise his role as flagbearer for the 2018 Winter Olympics and the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Early life[edit]

Taufatofua was born in Australia[2][3] on 5 November 1983[5] and raised in Tonga.[3] He attended Tonga Side School and Tonga High School,[6] and graduated from Saint Peter's Lutheran College in Brisbane in 2000.[7] His father is Tongan and his mother is Australian of British descent.[6] He began practicing taekwondo at age five.[8]

His childhood included traditional Tongan activities such as working harvesting cassava.[9]

Sports career[edit]

Taekwondo career[edit]

In the course of his career he has experienced, by one account, "six broken bones, three torn ligaments, three months in a wheelchair, a year and a half on crutches and hundreds of hours of physiotherapy".[9]

At the 2016 Oceania Taekwondo Olympic Qualification Tournament in February in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, he won his semi-final 4-3 before winning in the final against the 15th ranked fighter in the world to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.[10] He had previously tried to qualify for the Olympics on two occasions.[2] He was the first athlete from Tonga to compete in the Olympics in taekwondo.[3] He was Tonga's flagbearer for the opening ceremony.[2]

Cross-country skiing career[edit]

In December 2016, Taufatofua posted a video announcing his plans to train and compete in cross-country skiing.[11] He began learning form and technique by watching YouTube videos of professional races.[12] In January 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported he was one race away from qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, having completed most of his qualification requirements in roller ski races and only needing to make a final qualifying time on snow.[13] Taufatofua joined forces with skiers German Madrazo of Mexico and Yonathan Fernandez of Chile to form an independent training group that rented a cabin in Austria to train on snow and travel together to races. After slow finishes in seven snow races throughout January 2018, Taufatofua's last opportunity was a race on 20 January in Ísafjörður, Iceland. Taufatofua, Madrazo, and Fernandez almost missed the race due to road closures from snowstorms and an avalanche, but ultimately Taufatofua succeeded in qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics in the Iceland race on the final day of the qualification period.[14][15] He is the second Tongan to compete in the Winter Olympics, after 2014 luger Bruno Banani.[14]

Canoeing career[edit]

In April 2019, it was reported Taufatofua would attempt to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics, this time in sprint canoeing. He told the BBC, "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."[16] Taufatofua hoped to qualify for the one-man (K-1) 200-metre kayak event.[16]

At the World Canoe Sprint Championships in Hungary in August 2019, Taufatofua finished last in his opening round heat. In order to qualify for the 2021 Olympics, he would have had to win the K-1 200-metre event at the Oceania continental qualifier in February 2020. That attempt was unsuccessful.[17]

However, in February 2020, he qualified for the 2020 Summer Olympics for taekwondo, after winning gold in the M+80 kg, his second Olympic competition for the sport.[18]

Olympic Appearances[edit]

2016 Summer Olympics[edit]

Taufatofua appeared as Tonga's flag bearer in the Parade of Nations during the Olympics opening ceremony, which was held on 5 August 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. During the parade, he wore nothing but a taʻovala (a Tongan mat which is wrapped around the waist), with his face and torso appearing noticeably shiny. Initially, many assumed that he was sweating profusely,[19] but it became apparent that he had applied copious amounts of oil to his torso.[2][3][20][21] Taufatofua's shirtless, oiled-up appearance garnered him fame on social media as footage of his appearance went viral.[3]

During the taekwondo tournament, Taufatofua was eliminated in his first bout by the Iranian Sajjad Mardani once the score escalated to 16-1.[22] Taufatofua made an appearance at the closing ceremony of the games, showing up after a musical number in the same costume he wore during the Parade of Nations.[23]

2018 Winter Olympics[edit]

As Tonga's only representative in the 2018 Winter Olympics, Taufatofua was again the flagbearer for his country in the 2018 Winter Olympics Parade of Nations. Despite the temperatures being below freezing—and telling the media before the ceremony that he would not walk shirtless—he again wore nothing but a traditional Taʻovala mat wrapped around his waist, baring an oiled chest and torso.[24]

On Friday 16 February 2018, he competed in the 15km skiing freestyle race, coming in 114th place out of 119 skiers.[25]

2020 Summer Olympics[edit]

Taufatofua led his nation in the 2020 Opening Ceremonies, again shirtless and oiled; however, this time he had a co-flagbearer, Malia Paseka, who was also there to compete in Taekwondo.[26] This marked the third time the Tongan Olympian carried his country's flag in tapa cloth (a form of traditional Tongan clothing). In addition to showing off his oiled physique, Taufatofua also wore a pearl necklace in tribute to those who had recently passed (namely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic) as well as in dedication to his parents and family. The black pearl featured on the necklace held personal significance to him and his family. Prior to the opening ceremonies, Taufatofua shared a photograph of the necklace on Instagram, beginning the caption with the words, "FOR THOSE WE LOST - you will always be a pearl in the safety of our hearts."[27]

He nearly became the first Olympian to attend three different Olympic Games for three different sports as he attempted to qualify for the Kayak sprint in Tokyo. Unfortunately, his Kayak training did not lead to an Olympic qualification, ultimately resulting in Taufatofua competing solely in Taekwondo at the Tokyo Olympics.[28] He did, however, make history as the first person to have competed in three consecutive Olympic Games since the introduction of the Winter Olympics in 1924.[29]

Personal life[edit]

Taufatofua grew up with his parents and six siblings in a one-bedroom house in Tonga, which the family lost in a tropical storm.[16] As an adult he splits his time between his home nation and Brisbane, Australia.[16]

Taufatofua is a UNICEF ambassador and spends time working with homelessness charities, including at Sandgate House training homeless children to develop independent living skills.[16][30] He also works to raise awareness of global warming, which threatens his island nation of Tonga.[16]

He is a motivational speaker and in 2018 he published a book called The Motivation Station: An Essential Guide to Becoming Your Greatest Version.[31] He was a speaker at the 2018 MIT Solve, which was headlined by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.[32]

He has an engineering degree and as of 2016 is working on his master's degree.[9] He has also worked as a model beginning at age eighteen.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Pita Nikolas Taufatofua Archived 23 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine. nbcolympics.com
  2. ^ a b c d e Martin Rogers; Dan Wolken (5 August 2016). "Introducing the Tonga flagbearer who glistened during Rio Olympic opening ceremony". USA Today. Archived from the original on 6 August 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Palazzo, Chiara (6 August 2016). "Opening Ceremony: Who is Tonga's bare-chested flag bearer?". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 6 August 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  4. ^ Chenery, Susan (1 January 2019). "The incredible story of Pita Taufatofua, Tonga's shirtless Olympic flag bearer". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  5. ^ "Pita Nikolas Taufatofua". Rio 2016. Archived from the original on 6 August 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  6. ^ a b "Pita Taufatofua". Coconet. Archived from the original on 9 August 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  7. ^ "St. Peter's Lutheran College (official)". Facebook. 7 August 2016. Archived from the original on 10 February 2018.
  8. ^ "Tonga's Taekwondo Olympian welcomed home". Nuku'alofa Times. 15 March 2016. Archived from the original on 19 April 2016. Retrieved 9 April 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d Tonga, Matangi (4 August 2016). "Painful Road to Rio". The Fiji Times. Archived from the original on 11 August 2016. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  10. ^ "Tonga's Pita Taufatofua qualifies for Rio Olympic". Loop Tonga. 2 March 2016. Archived from the original on 15 April 2016. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  11. ^ "Tonga flag bearer Pita Taufatofua eyes 2018 Winter Olympics". NBC Sports. 5 December 2016. Archived from the original on 6 January 2018.
  12. ^ Grez, Matias (9 February 2018). "Tonga's famous flag bearer Pita Taufatofua achieves his impossible dream". CNN.
  13. ^ Robinson, Joshua; Cohen, Ben (4 January 2018). "Remember the Shirtless Tongan Flag-Bearer? He's Now a Cross-Country Skier". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 4 January 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2018.
  14. ^ a b Zaccardi, Nick (20 January 2018). "Tonga flag bearer from Rio qualifies for Winter Olympics". www.olympics.nbcsports.com/. NBC Sports. Archived from the original on 21 January 2018. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  15. ^ Gartland, Dan (20 January 2018). "Shirtless Tongan Flag-Bearer Qualifys for Winter Olympics". www.si.com/. Time Inc. Sports Illustrated Group. Archived from the original on 20 January 2018. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  16. ^ a b c d e f "Pita Taufatofua: 'Topless Tongan' targets sprint canoeing at Tokyo 2020". BBC Sport. 29 April 2019. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
  17. ^ 2020 Oceania Canoe Sprint Championships and PA Canoe Sprint Grand Prix 2, reyults of Pita Taufatofua, retrieved 28 July 2020
  18. ^ Asmelash, Leah. "Pita Taufatofua, the 'Shirtless Tongan,' just qualified for his third Olympics". CNN. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  19. ^ "Internet in a frenzy over Olympic flag-bearer Pita Taufatofua". NY Daily News. Retrieved 10 February 2018.
  20. ^ "Der heimliche Held kam im speziellen Röckchen". Die Welt (in German). 6 August 2016. Archived from the original on 7 August 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  21. ^ Aleythe, Saskia (6 August 2016). "Gut eingeölter Halb-Nackedei". Süddeutsche Zeitung (in German). Archived from the original on 9 August 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  22. ^ Tonga flag-bearer Pita Taufatofua making the most of unexpected Olympic fame Archived 20 October 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Oily flag bearer makes shiny comeback at Olympics Closing Ceremony Archived 23 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ Rogers, Martin (9 February 2018). "Despite frigid temperatures, Tonga's flag bearer shows up shirtless again at Winter Olympics opening ceremony". USA Today. Archived from the original on 10 February 2018. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  25. ^ "Winter Olympics: Tonga's Pita Taufatofua avoids last place in cross country skiing". BBC Sport. 16 February 2018. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  26. ^ McHugh, Erin (23 July 2021). "Tonga's shirtless flag bearer is back!". King5 News. Retrieved 23 July 2021.
  27. ^ Taufatofua, Pita [@pita_tofua]. (July 22, 2021) " FOR THOSE WE LOST - you will always be a pearl in the safety of our hearts" - - Its been a tough year for all around the world with sickness and sadness. I honour those that we lost, may they always be with us. - To my mother Rosemary who endured challenge after challenge and continues to fight and inspire us with a smile, I am in awe of your strength. - To my Father, this black pearl was the last gift Neta gave me before she passed. The saddest thing I have ever seen was you saying good bye as she left for her final journey. I'm sorry we weren't able to be there. FOR THOSE WE LOST YOU WILL BE REMEMBERED [Instagram photo] Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/p/CRm8o7nLZ1F/
  28. ^ "Tokyo Olympics: Pita Taufatofua shirtless again at Opening Ceremony". Tokyo 2020. Retrieved 24 July 2021.
  29. ^ "'Shirtless Tongan' Pita Taufatofua makes Olympic history". TODAY.com. Retrieved 17 August 2021.
  30. ^ Burke, Timothy. "Tongan Flag-Bearer Pita Taufatofua Owns The Olympics". Deadspin. Archived from the original on 7 August 2016. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  31. ^ The Motivation Station: An Essential Guide to Becoming Your Greatest Version. 2018. ISBN 9780648551607. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  32. ^ Snyder, Andrea (27 April 2018). "Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to headline Solve at MIT annual meeting". MIT News. Retrieved 26 July 2021.

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