The Tokyo Olympics (finally) opened Friday, and the opening ceremony had more than we could’ve asked for. Instead of just the viral Tonga flag bearer and his oiled chest, a second flag bearer decided to give Pita Taufatofua a run for his money.
Taufatofua became an internet sensation at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, when he made his Olympic debut in taekwondo and represented his island nation by carrying its flag at the opening ceremony. He was back at it again two years later, when he participated in cross country skiing at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
And Friday, as he readied to go at it in taekwondo again, Taufatofua was back, shirtless, oiled and representing his country in traditional Tongan costume.
But unlike in previous years, he had competition — Rillio Rii of Vanuatu, a rower and one of three athletes from the country in the South Pacific, also showed up without the top half of his outfit.
The 37-year-old Taufatofua never has medaled in his Olympic pursuits, but he’s leaned into becoming an international sensation. He is a UNICEF ambassador and a motivational speaker.
“The Olympics, to me, isn’t even about the athletes,” he recently told Ken Belson of The New York Times. “I think we are just a representation of every single person on the planet trying to overcome something.”
His first taekwondo match is Monday at 10:45 p.m. ET against Vladislav Larin, who is competing for the Russian Olympic Committee since his native Russia is still banned for its doping scandal.
And even if it doesn’t go as planned, that might not be the last we see of Taufatofua, as he hasn’t ruled out a future Olympic appearance. At the very least, he knows he has a worthy opponent on the flag-bearing front.