UNITED NATIONS — Pita Taufatofua is not ready to reveal which new sport he has taken up for a 2020 Olympic run — “very soon,” he said — but the oiled-up, shirtless Tongan flag bearer made it clear.
“I can guarantee you … whatever that next sport is, if I qualify for the Olympics in that sport, I will medal in that sport,” he said while visiting the UN last Wednesday for the Youth Dialogue event.
Taufatofua, who became a viral hit at the Rio Opening Ceremony and then competed in taekwondo and cross-country skiing in back-to-back Olympics, has known his new sport for at least two months. He traveled extensively since the Winter Games ended three months ago but found the time to tailor training for it.
“What I’m going to present is a sport that’s much more aligned with being a Tongan and being a Pacific Islander,” Taufatofua said two months ago. “It’s aligned with the water, the sea. So, wait and see.”
Yet Taufatofua refused to rule out competing in taekwondo again.
“Once taekwondo’s in the blood it never leaves,” he said Wednesday. “I’m always going to be a taekwondo fighter. Who knows? Who knows what the next step is.
“It’s always about stepping things up. How do you make it even better? Maybe I’ll do two sports. Who knows? … Whatever the most complex thing that I can think of is, that’ll be what’s next.”
Taufatofua also refused to rule out a team sport like water polo, despite Tonga having no Olympic history in the event and a minute chance to field a team to attempt to qualify for the Tokyo Games.
He also declined a suggestion that the new sport would be, like cross-country skiing, one with an easier route to qualify for the Olympics. Taufatofua finished 114th in his PyeongChang cross-country skiing race and lost by mercy rule in his Rio first-round taekwondo match.
“This is about the impossible,” Taufatofua said. “I’m not looking for an easy sport. I’m looking for a sport that’s aligned with me.”
Taufatofua confirmed he’s coming out with a book titled, “That Single Step,” based off the Lao Tzu quote, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
“It’s going to change people’s lives when it comes to creating new habits, getting to exercise, becoming a sportsman,” he said.
When will Taufatofua compete again? He said he doesn’t know. But he has put all of the weight back on that he shed for cross-country skiing.
And if he’s able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang.
“When I went to Rio, I was told by some of our own people [dignitaries], don’t wear this, don’t wear that,” Taufatofua said. “We want you to wear a suit and a tie. I said no. I said, you were taught to wear that suit and that tie 50 years ago. I said, my ancestors go back 1,000 years. I want to wear what they wore because I’m representing them when I carry that flag. They said no, so we carried it in our bags and hid it under our uniforms when we walked in the backstages of Rio and pulled it out when they had no chance to kick us off the team. Then, afterwards, they [other people] said, whose idea was it? They [the Tongan officials] said it was ours. It was all of ours.”
The PyeongChang uniform is headed for the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. The Rio one is stuck on his wall at home, hung with extra significance.
“It’s where things changed for me,” he said.
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