Pita Taufatofua became an overnight sensation five years ago when he marched shirtless and in a traditional Tongan costume at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Games, and again at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Taufatofua was back on Friday when he marched in Tokyo at his third Olympiad, where he will compete in taekwondo. Earlier in the day, Taufatofua said he was still shocked by the reaction to his traditional outfit.
“It was really a surprise to me,” he said in a telephone interview on Friday. “All of a sudden, within a day, the social media went through the roof. Who’s your manager? We need to talk. I didn’t even know what those words meant.”
Ultimately, Taufatofua embraced the attention. He is now a motivational speaker and a UNICEF ambassador.
“The Olympics, to me, isn’t even about the athletes,” he said. “I think we are just a representation of every single person on the planet trying to overcome something.”
Taufatofua, who took up taekwondo as a child, rejected the notion that he is simply trying to cash in on his Olympic fame. He lost in the first round in Rio, but noted that half the judo competitors in the Olympics did the same. He also had to fight a top-ranked opponent.
“It’s an honor to fight these guys,” he said. “I’m not out there to be the best in the world. I’m out here to be the best version of me.”
Taufatofua was coy about what he planned to wear at the opening ceremony.
“We just have to wait and see what the Olympics brings, you know?” he said. “You know, it’s the greatest show on earth we’re in.”
(He arrived as he had in Rio, in traditional costume. Expect him to be trending online again any minute.)