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.
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I dreamt my whole life of becoming an Olympian. My Mother had put me into Taekwondo as a five year old kid. To make three Olympics in a row was something I had never imagined. This third qualification was even more special because it wasn’t in some far away country but close to home where my family could attend. The look on my Mothers face when I qualified I will always remember. She said she was proud of seeing me qualify but was overcome with relief that I had gotten through the competition without more injury. My family has seen all the struggle and pain, they have been there through the broken bones and torn ligaments. I’m glad they were able to also be there to share in this special moment… #ThreeTimeOlympian #family #tokyo2020 #olympian #ThisOnesForThePlanet
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.
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Camp update- As is the nature of sports and life things rarely go to plan. Last week I tore my serratus muscles which connects to my rib causing sharp pain along my side and on my lower ribs. With a week and a half till my Olympic qualifier for Kayak and three weeks for Taekwondo it’s made any form of training challenging and painful. I haven’t been able to bend or twist or hold my core. For close to 5 months in this camp I haven’t missed a day of training and am in the best condition of my life. Normally before a competition an athlete will taper off. I decided not to taper but to ramp up my training to hit a speed bench mark. I’ve been running on the fence between improving rapidly in a new sport and pushing a limit to see what my body could take and how fast I could improve. My balance had finally gotten better and so I decided to push for speed. In the last three weeks I went from 8km/hr in a race kayak to a PB of 19.2km/hr. I was targeting 21+ km/hr by race day to be competitive and so I pushed harder. During a sprint session my body decided to push back and I’ve ended up with a torn muscle and rib injury. Not the worst injury I’ve had but definitely one of the more painful and inconvenient in terms of timing. We have decided to hold off paddling and kicking to see if the pain can subside. All we can do is upright stationary cycle and walk. My coach is back from NZ after having a beautiful baby boy to add to his family. We have been strategising how best to proceed. Other than the injury I am in the best physical and mental condition of my life. I didn’t fall out of my kayak 1000 times into a bull shark river just to stop. In times like this I go to prayer for help beyond what I can do alone. My spirits is high and we are doing all we can to maintain my condition while I heal. Come competition day whatever happens with the injury or the pain I will be in the kayak on that starting line and will hold nothing back, rib or no rib..whatever I have left I will give. This is a time where we have to rise to the challenge presented. I cant thank all of you enough for your support of this oily coconut that floated a long way from home. Ofa Atu
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.
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Its been a very busy week since the qualification. Ive been receiving messages, doing countless interviews and been sent news links from people in all different parts of the world. It’s more amusing then anything for me. I laugh and sometimes cringe at the ones I read. I remember long before my first Olympic qualification I made a promise to myself. I had noticed that many athletes, Olympians, movie stars, musicians who made it and then just stopped. Some drunk, snorted or self sabotaged themselves into a bad place. In some ways I felt for them and their struggles. I saw this long before I accidentally slipped into my first news article. 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 eye brows is flammable) – I would approach life with the mind set of ‘ its only just beginning’. The wolf climbing the hill was always hungrier then the wolf on top of the hill, I would stay hungry. But most importantly I would need to remember to keep at the forefront a purpose much larger than self and ego. I wanted to help as many people as possible reach their full potential, to show them what they too were capable of achieving. I wanted to bring awareness to our beautiful planet, our oceans and the problems it faces. And the best way I know how to do this is to get my ass kicked time after time as I climb that hill that has no summit. So now it’s time for us to bumble our way towards another Olympics. 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! #StayHungry #ThisOnesForThePlanet #Tonga #Olympian #Tokyo2020 @nbcsports @olympicchannel