Tonga’s Pita Taufatofua Skips Winter Olympics To Help Home Country Recover From Volcano Eruption

by TK Sanders

Tonga’s famous shirtless oily flag-bearer and multi-sport Olympian Pita Taufatofua said he is skipping the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. After he was noticeably absent from the opening ceremonies Friday, Taufatofua confirmed that he stayed home to help his homeland recover from the devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami that hit the islands on January 15.

According to his Instagram, however, it doesn’t look like the cross country skier and martial artist is retiring from competitive sport.

“Three Olympics in a row I have been blessed with all of your kindness. The last two years, competition and travel has been non-existent,” he wrote on Instagram this week.

“Not everything is in our control. That said I embrace both the good and the bad as part of life, and I do so with a smile. This time I will not be sharing the Beijing Olympic Games with you all.

“But I continue with joy as I prepare to support all the Olympians who have worked so hard to represent their countries. They are all flag bearers, they all stand for that voice within that calls us all to become our very best.”

“Right now I have another task that calls me, I must answer. But make no mistake, my sword is sharp and my mind is ready. I am just getting started. We have something up our sleeve: an idea, a feat, a dream. It lives next to the impossible, a place that excites me.”

“Thank you all for continuing to share this quest. Your support means everything. Somewhere inside each and every one of you there is an Olympian….Paris ‘we’ are coming!”

Taufatofua has become an integral figure for Tonga

In 2018, Taufatofua, now 38, made history by becoming Tonga’s first-ever Winter Olympian. Since the volcano erupted in the Pacific and sent a massive tsunami across his home country, Taufatofua has been active on social media advocating for aid and raising money. To date, he has raised around $800,000 in relief funds for his countrymen. Those countrymen will surely be sad to miss their native Taufatofua competing on the international stage as a skier.

How big was the volcanic blast in Tonga?

According to NASA scientists who have studied the blast, the power of the volcano far exceeded anything man-made. The power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima doesn’t even compare.

“We think the amount of energy released by the eruption was equivalent to somewhere between five to 30 million tons of TNT,” one scientist said. For comparison’s sake, an atomic bomb equates to around 15,000 tons of TNT. So the difference in power is exponential.

NASA elaborated by saying the volcanic eruption completely “obliterated” the island, which is located 41 miles north of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa. The blast sent debris soaring 25 miles upwards into Earth’s atmosphere, as well. Afterward, it triggered tsunami waves and shockwaves felt across the globe.