Pita Taufatofua Greased-up Tongan hero turns to Winter Games

The 33-year-old taekwondo fighter lost in the first round in Rio, but he is now switching to cross-country skiing.

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Tonga's Pita Taufatofua, as famous for his greased-up torso as his taekwondo skills, is now taking up Olympic cross-country skiing play

Tonga's Pita Taufatofua, as famous for his greased-up torso as his taekwondo skills, is now taking up Olympic cross-country skiing

(AFP/File)
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Tonga's muscle-bound Rio Olympics flag-bearer Pita Taufatofua wants to cover up his famously greased-up body and leave his tropical island home to have a crack at the Winter Olympics.

A shirtless Taufatofua became an instant hit on social media this year when he displayed his well-oiled and sculpted body as he led Tonga's team at the Rio opening ceremony.

The 33-year-old taekwondo fighter lost in the first round in Rio, but he is now switching to cross-country skiing to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"I'm going to be taking my Olympic dream one-step further and I will be representing Tonga in Tonga's cross-country skiing," he told the Olympic Channel.

"Cross-country skiing represents to me something new, something completely different.

"For me it's always been about the challenge, it's always been about getting out of my comfort zone."

The Pacific kingdom of Tonga, with a population of just over 100,000, announced in July that it hoped to send a team of skiers to Pyeongchang.

Officials added that the team did not want to be seen as a "novelty", despite coming from a balmy climate.

Bruno Banani was Tonga's first winter Olympian, appearing at the 2014 Games in Sochi where he finished 32nd out of 39 in the men's luge.

But he was by no means the first cross-climate athlete. The Jamaican bobsleigh team set the standard at the 1988 Calgary Olympics and were later immortalised in the film "Cool Runnings".

Kasate Skeen is another Pyeongchang hopeful from Tonga who has ditched his job and moved to Austria in a bid to qualify for the alpine skiing.

"Before I started on this journey, I'd skied for a total of 45 days," he told AFP last month.

"Most ski racers have been skiing their entire lives since they were small children."

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