Tonga may have just the six athletes competing at the Olympics in Tokyo but that didn’t stop them stealing the show in the Opening Ceremony.
Pita Taufatofua – shirtless, ripped and apparently saturated in baby oil – set social media ablaze as he waved his country’s flag and led the team out into the Japan National Stadium.
The 37-year-old, who will be competing in the taekwondo in Tokyo, is taking part in his third Olympics.
He went viral when he also appeared shirtless at the Opening Ceremony for the 2016 Rio Games and he did likewise at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, where he represented Tonga in cross-country skiing.
Fans old and new of Taufatofua took to Twitter to express their appreciation with millions watching Friday’s Ceremony right around the world.
‘There’s enough oil on the Tonga flag bearer to fry a turkey dinner and I love it. Is this man single? Oh my God,’ wrote one.
‘Tonga’s flag bearer is heating up the internet!’ said another.
‘Tonga’s flag bearer wins the evening for me’ added another tweeter.
Taufatofua was born in Brisbane, Australia but was raised along with his six siblings in a one-bedroom house in Tonga, which his family lost in a tropical storm.
He now splits his time between the Pacific island and Brisbane, works as a Unicef ambassador, helps homelessness charities and raised awareness about the impacts of global warming.
Tonga is the second most likely nation in the world to be hit by a natural disaster – behind fellow Pacific island Vanuatu – according to the 2018 World Risk Index.
Taufatofua also has an engineering degree and, you may not be surprised to learn, has been modelling since the age of 18.
He shot to worldwide prominence at the Olympic Opening Ceremony in Rio when, ignoring pleas from officials, he stripped down from the official suit and walked out in nothing more than a ta’ovala [a Tongan mat wrapped around the waist].
‘I just wanted to represent my country’s culture and heritage,’ he told the BBC in 2019. ‘I had no idea it would have that impact.’
As the television cameras focused on the ‘Topless Tongan’ it became apparent he wasn’t sweating as first thought but had applied copious amounts of oil to his torso and Taufatofua went viral.
His taekwondo competition wasn’t as successful, however, as he was eliminated in his first bout.
In 2018, he became only the second Tongan to participate in the Winter Olympics, having achieved the qualifying time in cross-country skiing.
Despite temperatures below freezing at the Opening Ceremony, he once again walked out shirtless before finishing 114th out of 119 competitors in the 15km freestyle race.
Initially, Taufatofua intended to come to the delayed 2020 Games to compete in canoeing but he failed to qualify. Instead he returned to taekwondo to win his place at the Games.
It came as the Covid-delayed 2020 Olympics were officially opened with a symbolic display of hope and tenacity in the face of adversity at the Opening Ceremony.
There were just 950 VIPs and world leaders inside the 68,000-seat main arena in Tokyo to watch the display of light and colour amid rising case totals in the country which forced organisers to ban crowds