2020 Tokyo Olympics: Viral ‘Shirtless Tongan’ Makes History in Latest Competition

by Madison Miller

It’s a major accomplishment to appear in the Olympics for any given sport. However, it’s even more astounding to appear for two separate sports.

Pita Taufatofua is a Tongan athlete that competes in both taekwondo and skiing. He has appeared in the 2016 Summer Olympics, the 2018 Winter Olympics, and the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Tongan Athlete Makes Olympics History

According to NBC, he’s making history as the first person to ever compete in three consecutive Olympic Games since the start of the Games back in 1924.

He became recognizable not only for his athletic prowess but also for his notable appearances in the Olympics Opening Ceremonies. Taufatofua appeared in a traditional Tongan Taʻovala around his waist and had his bare chest oiled and glimmering for the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016. He was the flagbearer for his country. Then, he reprised his flagbearer duties both for the Winter Olympics and this year’s competition.

Taufatofua competed in taekwondo in the 2016 Olympics but lost in the first round to Iran’s Sajjad Mardani. He appeared as a cross-country skier in 2018. Now, he’s back at it with the taekwondo. His first loss was against Russian world champion Vladislav Larin.

He then went up against Ivan Trajkovič from Slovenia and again lost.

Clearly, the Olympics don’t follow the rule, “no shirt, no shoes, no service.” Taufatofua has made a name for himself with his awe-worthy shirtless appearances and his traditional Tongan clothing.

In addition to taekwondo and skiing, Taufatofua also tried to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in canoeing. He would have been the first Olympian to attend three different Olympics for three different sports.

Taufatofua has on a pearl necklace. It is a tribute to those who recently passed, specifically due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He wrote on Instagram before the Games, “FOR THOSE WE LOST – you will always be a pearl in the safety of our hearts.”

Pita Taufatofua Sparks Internet Fame 2016

In 2016, Pita Taufatofua taught some of the Today anchors taekwondo. He encouraged them to yell with each punch because it “gives you extra energy and I think it scares the other person as well.”

Taufatofua has been a bit blown away by the attention. He wrote on Twitter, “Thanks all for the tags and love. Not sure if going viral during a pandemic is a good thing … but I appreciate all the messages and support.”

Back in 2016, Pita Taufatofua blatantly ignored officials trying to get him to wear the suit he was supposed to wear. Rather, he hid his ta’ovala and some coconut oil in his backpack. He was viral in seconds.

As Entertainment Tonight reported, “The internet came to a grinding halt.”

“It was the first time I heard about what a manager is, what a publicist is, what an agent is. It was just me and my coach trying to manage all this. Two people who didn’t know anything. No one had ever heard of Tonga. We were like, how is this even possible?” Taufatofua said to The Guardian at the time amidst the craziness.

Beyond his life at the Olympics, he also is a UNICEF Pacific ambassador and has worked with homeless kids for 15 years at Brisbane Youth Service. He’s also a motivational speaker.