Pita Taufatofua

Tonga flag bearer guarantees medal if he makes 2020 Olympics in new sport

“I can guarantee you … whatever that next sport is, if I qualify for the Olympics in that sport, I will medal in that sport,” he said while visiting the UN last Wednesday for the Youth Dialogue event.

Taufatofua, who became a viral hit at the Rio Opening Ceremony and then competed in taekwondo and cross-country skiing in back-to-back Olympics, has known his new sport for at least two months. He traveled extensively since the Winter Games ended three months ago but found the time to tailor training for it.

Tonga’s flamboyant Olympic flag-bearer has inspiring message for youth

“The young people are the people who are going to dictate our future,” Mr. Taufatofua said in an interview with UN News during his first visit to the United Nations in New York.

The two-time Olympian was one of the main speakers at Tuesday’s United Nations Youth Dialogue event, where the President of the General Assembly and other senior officials joined young people to discuss increasing education and skills training, as well as how to prevent radicalization.

Pita Taufatofua signs off Winter Olympics with shirtless appearance

The cross-country skier from Tonga who competed in his first Winter Games with a 114th finish out of 119 competitors in the men's 15km cross-country event, showed his star power as the event came to an end.

Taufatofua has been in the spotlight since walking in the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics all oiled up and muscles bulging. He repeated that for the Pyeongchang opening ceremony on February 9.

He then took to teasing the crowd as the exciting Winter Games drew to an end.

Taufatofua's result a success for Tonga

Competing in only his sixth major race, the 34 year-old completed his run in 56 minutes and 41 seconds.

Pita Taufatofua, who took up cross-country skiing just over a year ago, finished ahead of four other competitors in South Korea, and more than 23 minutes behind the gold medallist, Dario Cologna from Switzerland.

Head of Sport for the Royal Tonga Ski Federation, Steve Grundmann, said it was a fantastic race by the double Olympian.

He said Pita Taufatofua paced his way perfectly around a difficult course and even had a smile on his face.

From Rio Games to Winter Olympics, Pita Taufatofua takes on cross-country ski

Two years ago, he was marching into the Rio summer Games carrying the Tongan flag shirtless and sporting an oily torso - last week, at sub zero temperatures, he did the same in South Korea at the Winter Olympics.

His taekwondo dream ended in a 19-1 opening-round defeat in Brazil and having turned to the snow Taufatofua's ambitions are to "finish before they turn the lights off" and "don't ski into a tree".

Tonga's Pita Taufatofua says pressure off for Winter Olympics debut

Pita Taufatofua will compete in the men's 15 km freestyle in cross-country skiing on Friday, little over a year after putting on a pair of skis for the first time.

The 34 year old, who represented Tonga in taekwondo at the Rio Summer Olympics in 2016, only confirmed his qualification three weeks ago and said it has taken a lot of hard work and sacrifice to make it to South Korea.

"I'll never be 100 percent ready, I don't think anyone ever is," he said.

Tonga's famous flagbearer returns to steal the show

Pita Taufatofua emerged from the tunnel covered in his trademark body oil and wearing a grass skirt, sandals and a huge smile as he led the Tongan delegation around the arena.

"I won't freeze. I am from Tonga. We sailed across the Pacific. This is nothing," Taufatofua said.

The Oceania gold medallist in taekwondo made global headlines in 2016 with a shirtless entrance as the country's flagbearer at the Rio Olympics.

The good news for his admirers is that he returned for the Winter Olympics, having switched to cross country ski-ing.

Tongan flag bearer Pita Taufatofua qualifies for Winter Olympics

Taufatofua lost 15kg as he adapted his body and learned a new sport, and is now able to compete in the Winter Olympics.

He made his name after finding recognition as the oiled flagbearer for Tonga at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

The 34-year-old crashed out in the first Round at Rio, but has spoken of his pride at being able to compete again:

"After Rio I decided to find the hardest sport possible because I needed a new challenge.

"You've got to put your body through something really challenging and the goal was to do it in one year - and we did it in one year!"

Taufatofua needs to qualify for Winter Olympics

Taufatofua competed in the Rio Olympics in taekwondo. He was quickly defeated, but gained immense publicity for himself and Tonga by leading his fellow competitors into the arena covered in coconut oil.

Now he has decided to switch sporting careers and has been battling uphill to make his dream of competing in South Korea a reality.

He started skiing a year ago on roller skis, managed to raise $10,000 to fund his attempt and has been competing on borrowed skis.

Tongan flag-bearer struggles to qualify for Winter Olympics

Taufatofua has achieved qualifying times in four of the five cross-country skiing courses he needs, to secure a place at the games, but poor performances in his last two races could cost the 34-year-old a trip to South Korea.

Taufatofua struggled through a race in Armenia two days ago and despite a last minute dash to make another qualifier in Croatia, the former taekwondo competitor missed his flight. 

In a social media post the athlete says it was always going to be a long shot to qualify before next week's January 21 deadline, and he is already planning his next move.