The 2018 Winter Olympics came to a close on Sunday in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and there to help send it off was wildly popular Tongan flag bearer Pita Taufatofua.
Tautatofua has been a viral sensation since the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, where he dazzled the world with his enthusiastic smile and, of course, his oiled abs. The genial representative of Tonga stood in his usual outfit, the traditional garb of his country, beside some of this year's biggest athletes, as a series of speeches closed out the games. When it came time for photos, Taufatofua crouched low with his arms out.
Once again, the taekwondo competitor took over the social media conversation with his infectious smile. Viewers online marveled at the muscle-bound athlete braving the cold in all his greasy glory, and looking ecstatic to do it.
“It still feels quite strange actually being here, because it took me 20 years to get to Rio, and just one year to get here,” Taufatofua told Olympic.org earlier in the season. “It’s just an honour. I mean, how many countries in the Pacific get to go to a Winter Games?”
Taufatofua took a shot at cross country skiing in this year's games. It's a far cry from his main sport of taekwondo, but the low expectations likely facilitated his unflagging positivity. He finished in 114th place in the 15 kilometer event, but he told reporters he was just glad to show kids from the Pacific islands that it was possible.
“People from the Pacific, these kids who are watching now, they’ll have access to something that they never knew existed before,” he said in a press conference. “And to me, that’s why I’m here.”
Olympic.org reported that Taufatofua turned down offers to star in movies and potential modelling contracts after he made headlines in Rio two years ago. The 34-year-old was more interested in the competitive peak and pageantry of the Olympics.
His dedication hasn't ceased to inspire the people at home watching. "Could it be a closing ceremony without Pita Taufatofua in Tongan warrior dress?" asked one Twitter user as the event aired.
Could it be a closing ceremony without Pita Taufatofua in Tongan warrior dress?— Matt Pepin (@mattpep15) February 25, 2018
Another posted a still shot of Taufatofua's ear-to-ear smile. "Like, can you honestly imagine if Tonga ever hosted the Olympics?" he wrote.
Like, can you honestly imagine if Tonga ever hosted the Olympics?February 25, 2018
Taufatofua himself didn't post about the closing ceremony. His last tweet, from over a week ago, asked his followers to "pray for Tonga." The country was ravaged by Cyclone Gita, a Category 4 tropical cyclone, on Feb. 12. Al Jazeera reported that the storm impacted 70% of the nation's population, with over 1,000 homes destroyed.
?? #prayForTonga ??— Pita T (@PitaTaufatofua) February 14, 2018
Restoration and relief efforts are still underway, and soon, the country will have Taufatofua back home to help as well.