THEY ARE HUNGRY: The Famous Tonga Flag
Bearer Being Oiled By TV Presenters - LOL To The End
eryone settle down.
That wasn't baby oil slathered all over bare-chested Pita
Nikolas Taufatofua as he led the Tongan
delegation into Maracana Stadium
for Rio's opening ceremony.
It was coconut oil — and there's a big difference
"In Tonga, it's traditional," Taufatofua told the Tribune
on Saturday. "In any sort of special event we use coconut oil ...
for glisten. But also if it's a fundraising event, people stick money to it. We use it quite a lot."
Still, Taufatofua never meant to look so, well, shimmery.
"It was being applied to me while I was holding the flag by a lovely lady behind me. She was just lathering it on, and I had to ask her to stop because my shoes were starting to slip off and it was dripping down," he said. "I didn't quite realize how much it was until I went on social media and saw how shiny I was."
A 32-year-old taekwondo competitor, Taufatofua became the Games
' first breakout media star after making his oily debut during the parade
of nations Friday. Wearing a traditional tupenu wrap and a shark tooth necklace in honor of his island home Haapai
, he got at huge roar from the Brazilian crowd when the stadium video screen showed him winking and smiling at the camera.
The television audience apparently liked it, too, as social media exploded with mentions of him. As the internet was blowing up, media organizations scrambled to find out more about Taufatofua, the first taekwondo athlete from Tonga to compete at the Olympics
"I didn't quite realize (the sensation it caused) until I got back on the bus and everyone was like 'you're trending in every major country in the world,'" he said. "What's it like to break the internet? It's
important for me to get Tonga seen by the world and for everyone around the world to see that you can come from a tiny island country and we can do our bit to bring it to the big boys."
It's an unlikely 15 minutes of fame
for an athlete who has toiled in anonymity throughout his career. Taufatofua missed qualifying for the Olympics three times and has suffered a number of serious injuries, which he says includes six broken bones, three torn ligaments and months in a wheelchair.
, he moved to Tonga as an infant, according to his official Olympic
biography. He could have competed for either country — his mother is Australian
and his father is Tongan — but he chose the small island nation of around 105,000 people in order to "inspire a new generation of Tongan athletes."
He qualified for the Rio Games
in March by winning a tournament in Papua New Guinea
. Tongan athletes usually wear their country's native garb to the opening ceremony, so after he qualified Taufatofua made sure to pack his kafa, a traditional belt that his aunt Louisa
wove for him before her death.
Taufatofua, a youth counselor who has also done some modeling, said his aunt was one of his biggest supporters, so he wanted to pay tribute to her during the ceremony.
"This took me 20 years to get here," he said. "She was there for the struggle, but she wasn't able to see what we've done."
Taufatofua will compete Aug. 19 in the 176.3-pound class. He is not expected to medal, but he said he hopes his presence sends a message anyway.
"What people see now is the guy who broke the internet covered in oil," he said. "They don't see the struggle. They only see the shine. ..
out there is on their own little journey, and I want them to push through. I think people give up too easy."
Taufatofua also hinted he may have another internet-breaking moment ready for the closing ceremony Aug. 21.
blink or you'll miss it," he said. "It's a secret."
Then he winked.
- published: 09 Aug 2016
- views: 2191