Oiled up Tonga flag bearer, Pita Taufatofua, is the Rio Olympics’ newest celebrity; and it’s not just because he’s an exceptional athlete at the height of his career. In the above video, we see him bearing the flag for Tonga during the opening ceremony, as he is a literal gleaming beacon that no one can take their eyes off of.
He marched in traditional garb, bearing Tonga’s red and white flag, as well as a healthy sheen of oil. “Wow, look at Tonga!” The NBC announcer says in a distinctly admiring tone when the flag bearer first appeared. “Slow that down! Wow, we’ll just stay here for a minute.”
Pita Taufatofua is undeniably handsome, with a bright smile and short cropped black hair. The taekwondo competitor drew a lot of attention from the crowd, and was a favorite of watchers on Twitter during the Parade of Nations in Rio during the opening ceremony. The garment he was wearing is called a Tongan ta’ovala, which means decorated cloth, as well as an ornamental waist girdle. It has only been a month since he first learned that he would be the flag bearer, but he immediately decided to wear a Traditional Tongan dress instead of the usual team uniform. According to TodayNews, the decorated cloth he wore was made from the bark of paper-mulberry plants. It is supposed to symbolize a unity between an islander and his or her land. The necklace he wore was shark tooth, and Tongans hold a certain reverence for sharks in their country.
He realized that he became an Internet star while the ceremony was still taking place; and he was absolutely delighted by the attention. He took to social media and good-naturedly posted how he felt about the entire event posting on Instagram that the ceremony was “fun, bright and shinier than my coconut oil!”
The athlete was born in Australia, but moved back to his father’s homeland of Tonga when he was a very young child. He trained for the Olympics in Auckland, New Zealand, and, finally making it to Rio was a dream that was 20 years in the making. Taufatofua crowd-funded nearly nine thousand U.S. dollars to help him fund the journey to Brazil; and that wasn’t the only hardship he had to endure to get there.
Training in taekwondo, he had to endure six broken bones, three torn ligaments, and several months in a wheelchair before using crutches for over a year. But now he is in Rio, and he’s eager to compete. Tonga has only one Olympic medal in its history—a silver medal won by boxer Paea Wolfram in the 1996 Olympics. Taufatofua wrote on his blog, “As a kid I waited on the side of the road when the boxer Paea Wolfgramm had come back from the Olympics with his silver medal. That’s where the dream started for me, for all of us.”
Now he’s realizing the dream for himself—and he’s become a dream for so many onlookers. That smile, that body, what’s not to love? He definitely has thousands of new fans who will be cheering him on when he completes on the 19th.