No ta’ovala-ing way: 2016’s shirtless Tongan plans to bundle up for PyeongChang


At the 2016 Rio Olympic Games Tonga’s Pita Taufatofua blew up the internet after marching in the Opening Ceremony in his traditional ta’ovala, and nothing but. With weather reports in PyeongChang predicting temperatures of 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit for the Opening Ceremony, Taufatofua said he won’t be reprising his show-stopping attire at these Olympics.

“I want to still be alive for my race. It’s going to be freezing, so I will be keeping nice and warm,” he said according to a PyeongChang 2018 media release.

Taufatofua was determined to become the only Tongan to compete in both the summer and winter Olympics after returning home from Rio.

“After Rio I needed a new challenge,” he said. “Could I do a new sport, the hardest I could think of, in a year?”

In mid-January he traveled to Isafjordur, Iceland for his seventh and final chance at Olympic qualification in cross-country skiing. He did it, but just barely.

The upstart cross-country skier from Tonga had done most of his training on roller skis and paved roads, not as easy at it sounds, but in Iceland he had his best race on snow, qualifying him for his second Olympics.

“Every time I ski I feel like I die a little inside. The burn starts and then you hold the burn for an hour or more. I still haven’t had a race where I felt completely happy, in terms of no pain,” he said.

“No pain” isn’t exactly what Nordic sports are known for, with even the top athletes crossing the finish line and collapsing in a heap, gasping for air. Taufatofua is not deterred, and he’s already thinking well past PyeongChang.

“I feel I have got unfinished business with taekwondo,” he said, who finished 11th in the men’s +80kg in Rio.

“The goal at Rio was to win a medal, so Tokyo 2020 is on my radar. But who knows, you might see me in something else. I love all sports, it could be anything.”

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