Who is Tonga’s Pita Taufatofua?
Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Not since the mellow works of Bob Ross has there been such a fandom for art presented in oils. Yes, it wouldn’t be the Summer Olympics without Pita Taufatofua, the Tongan taekwondo competitor who knows how to make a grand entrance. And we mean grand. (If strength of character is one of the most extraordinary things about the Olympics, then Pita is practically Super Man in a ta?ovala: Faster than a speeding bullet covered in suntan lotion.) He gained a ton of fans during the 2016 Rio Games, and his iconic prowess and shiny presentation have only grown in Tokyo. So much that we figured it was best to learn a little more about him… Here are five interesting facts about Pita Taufatofua:
He says “no way” to eating donuts before an opening ceremony.
Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Nope, you’re not playing a TV cop in this case, so it makes sense to skip the donut run. Pita took some time with NBC Sports to share a few thoughts about the prep for flag-bearing duties, sans shirt, and all three points were valid. Besides zero donut indulgences, not having your mom tune in is also highly recommended, as is having a nice tan before hitting the Parade of Nations.
He competed in the Winter Olympics
(Photo by: Hendrik Schmidt/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)
While the bulk of his notoriety has been directly related to the opening ceremony attire—even at the 2018 Winter Games, Pita went with the oiled-up shirtless mantra—it’s amazing how talented he is as an athlete. He competed in the 2018 Winter Games in the 15km freestyle Nordic skiing event. And he just missed out on the canoeing competition in Tokyo.
Pita the Rugby Star? It just wasn’t in the cards…
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Pita trained as hard as he possibly could all four years of high school, but alas, he never saw playing time with the Rugby team. However, it did teach him resilience, the kind that might make you a Renaissance type later on in life.
Beyond the multitalented and competitive athlete is…an engineer…and a UNICEF ambassador?
(Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images for MIT Solve)
Pita has an engineering degree from St. Peter’s Lutheran College in Brisbane, Australia, and is working toward a master’s degree. On top of that, Pita’s also a Pacific Ambassador for UNICEF, where he works to better the lives of children in the island areas. (True to self, part of his effort is to raise money for sporting equipment for nations in need.)
You’re not going to hear any “only child” tales from this guy
(Photo by Hanna Lassen/Getty Images for the Australian Olympic Committee)
Pita had six—six!—siblings, and was the third-eldest of the group. (Sadly, he lost a sister to cancer when she was only 12 years old.) They all grew up on Tonga, moving back from Australia when Pita was young. It was during the tough times that they all learned what hard work meant—his father earned a PhD, while struggling to make ends meet, before setting off on a job that would last 40 years. That type of fortitude is what shaped the Olympian we see today. Get to know more Olympic athletes: 11 things to know about U.S. Olympic softball star Cat Osterman. 10 facts about U.S. women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe.