Shirtless Tongan Flag-Bearer Pita Taufatofua Qualifies for 2018 Olympics

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2018

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Pita Taufatofua of Tonga jumps on stage during the Closing Ceremony on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maracana Stadium on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Pita Taufatofua, the Tongan Olympian who rose to fame as the shirtless flag-bearer for his country at the 2016 Summer Olympics, qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in cross-country skiing.

According to the Wall Street Journal (h/t ESPN.com), Taufatofua earned his place in the 2018 Olympics during a qualifying event in Isafjordur, Iceland.

Taufatofua commented on his qualification in an Instagram post:

Taufatofua represented Tonga in the taekwondo event two years ago, competing in the heavyweight division. The 15th seed, he lost his opening bout to Iranian Sajjad Mardani.

In an interview earlier this month with WBUR's Bill LittlefieldTaufatofua said the defeat to Mardani didn't ruin his experience at the Olympics. He added that the attention he helped bring to his native country was "a bigger win for me, because now people know where Tonga is."

According to Littlefield, Taufatofua turned down modeling and acting offers in order to pursue qualification for the 2018 Olympics. The Olympics profiled the start of his journey in a pair of YouTube videos:

The Wall Street Journal's Ben Cohen explained to Littlefield how a ruling by the International Ski Federation aided Taufatofua in his quest to Olympic qualification.

The federation ruled points earned in roller skiing events could count toward cross-country skiing qualification. As a result, Taufatofua was able to complete the bulk of his qualifying portion on roller skis before heading to Iceland to finish the job.

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