The Shirtless Tongan Olympic Flag-Bearer Is Now A Cross-Country Skier

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Tongan athlete Pita Taufatofua jazzed up the 2016 Olympics opening ceremony when he walked into the arena shirtless and slathered in oil. He competed in taekwondo in the summer games, and now he’s trying to qualify for this year’s Winter Olympics as a cross-country skier.

The Wall Street Journal has been tagging along with Taufatofua during his quest to switch sports, and has published an entertaining read about his training process. Not only has he had to learn the sport from scratch and shed a lot of weight, he’s spent most of his time competing in qualifying races that aren’t even in the snow. In an attempt to expand the field of cross-country skiers, the International Ski Federation made it so that points earned in warm-weather roller-skiing events would count towards Olympic qualification. This has been good news for Taufatofua’s chances at qualifying—he lives in Australia—but bad news for his body:

Taufatofua’s road to the Winter Olympics didn’t keep him in the snow for long. After competing in the sprint event at the world championships last year in Finland—“I didn’t come last!”—he returned to the Southern Hemisphere deeply proud of finishing in 153th place of 156 skiers. “I was one second off beating India,” he said. “That’s a billion people.”

But there was no snow back home in Brisbane, Australia, and he couldn’t regularly drive 30 hours and sleep in his car to hit the nearest ski mountains. His training consisted of beach workouts and roller-skiing for several hours a day in the sunshine and without a shirt.

“I destroyed myself on those things,” he said. “I think they’re made by the devil.”


Taufatofua has also gone $30,000 in debt while pursuing his new Olympic dream, but at least he’s staying upbeat through the process. Now please enjoy this GIF of him eating it while on roller-skis: