Pita Taufatofua, whose shirtless entrance at the opening ceremonies of the past two Olympic Games nearly broke the internet, will be oiling up again for his third Olympics.
The 36-year-old athlete from Tonga recently qualified for the 2020 Games in Tokyo having clinched a spot in taekwondo at a qualifying event in Australia.
USA Today reports Taufatofua originally set out to qualify in a new sport for him – sprint kayak – having set a goal of qualifying for three consecutive Olympics in three different sports.
But a rib injury in early February hampered his kayak training and impacted his performance in the qualifying races.
The handsome athlete has continued to train in taekwondo, the sport which first sent him to the Olympics. Just weeks after falling short for kayaking, he pushed through the pain in Oceania’s qualification event to score his return ticket to Tokyo. Having trained in Taekwondo since the age of five, he was the first Tongan to ever compete in the sport for his country in the 2016 Games.
He became a media sensation during those Games after his coconut oiled entrance as the flag bearer for Tonga.
He told The Guardian at the time, “No one had ever heard of Tonga! We were like, how is this even possible?”
The island nation of nearly 100,000 people sits on a group of islands east of Australia.
In December 2016, he announced he would learn to ski in order to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in cross-country skiing. He had never been on snow skis in his life prior to training for the sport.
After slow finishes in several races, he traveled through a harrowing blizzard in the Arctic Circle to the final qualifying event. He made it to the race in time and became the second-ever Tongan to compete in a Winter Olympic Games.
He was again the flag bearer in his shirtless, coconut oil glory at the opening ceremonies. He competed in the 15km freestyle race coming in 114th out of 119 skiers.
Some might have been disappointed, but for Taufatofua it was the effort and the journey that mattered. And sports fans were inspired by his undaunted spirit.
Even though he’s already got a ticket to Tokyo, Taufatofua still plans on attempting to qualify for kayaking in what he calls a last-ditch effort.
Not just a pretty face, when he’s not training he is studying at college having earned a degree in engineering and is currently working towards his master’s degree.
He’s also a UNICEF ambassador and spends time working with homeless youth charities as well as working to raise awareness of global warming.
In his most recent Instagram post, he wrote, “I promised myself to always remember where I came from, to remain grounded. Unlike Icarus, I could never fly too close to the sun (coconut oil, like my eyebrows, is flammable) – I would approach life with the mindset of ‘it’s only just beginning.'”
“I wanted to help as many people as possible reach their full potential, to show them what they too were capable of achieving,” he added. “I wanted to bring awareness to our beautiful planet, our oceans and the problems it faces.”
“So now it’s time for us to bumble our way towards another Olympics,” he concluded. “So sit back with your seat in an upright position, stow your tray tables, put your flu mask on, disinfect your hands and join me on this ride towards Tokyo and beyond!”
Happy Hump Day to Pita Taufatofua, a true inspiration.