Say It Ain't So! Tonga's Shirtless Flag Bearer Bows Out Of The 2022 Olympics With On-Brand Post

Pita Taufatofua is shown as the Tongan flag bearer in the 2016 Olympics opening ceremony.
(Image credit: NBC)

It’s always fun to have someone to cheer for in the Olympics. While sports fans may mostly limit their rooting interests to athletes from their own home country, some participants from around the world attract standalone fanbases with their talents, personalities or — in this case — their shiny, oily bodies. Pita Taufatofua, the Tongan taekwondo athlete and cross-country skier who became internationally recognizable as the "shirtless flag bearer" in the 2020 Summer Games, has announced he will not compete in the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics, although the announcement was everything you would hope it'd be.

Pita Taufatofua established himself as a worldwide fan favorite when he became recognizable as the country’s flag-bearer for the last three Olympic Games. He wore a traditional Tongan taʻovala around his waist and sported a bare (and well-oiled) chest as he led his country’s athletes into the Opening Ceremony in 2016, and fans were delighted to see repeat appearances in the 2018 Winter Olympics and 2020 Summer Olympics. It looks like his time competing for Tonga has come to an end, unfortunately, according to a statement on Instagram:

The multi-sport athlete appeared on skis in the post announcing that he won’t return for his fourth-straight Olympic Games, and in a very on-brand move even for a Winter announcement, Pita Taufatofua was pictured shirtless and oiled up. While he didn’t give a specific reason for bowing out, Taufatofua hinted at the natural disaster that struck Tonga and other island nations in January, saying some things are out of our control, and he will continue to support all of the athletes who are indeed set to compete in Beijing. 

Tonga was among the countries hit hard in early 2022 after a volcanic eruption triggered a massive tsunami. Pita Taufatofua has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars on a GoFundMe page to help in the island’s recovery efforts. He may well have been referencing those efforts as he wrote about another task that demands his attention ahead of the 2022 Olympics.

Right now I have another task that calls me, I must answer. But make no mistake, my sword is sharp and my mind is ready. I am just getting started.

Whether in competition or not, it sounds like Pita Taufatofua embodies the Olympic spirit on a frequent basis, and we wish only the best for him and all who were affected by the volcanic eruption. Until we see you again!

The 2022 Beijing Olympics are set to kick off February 4. The opening ceremony will be streaming live on Peacock at 6:30 a.m. EST from the Beijing National Stadium. The ceremony itself is being designed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou who also directed the legendary 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony. You will also be able to watch the “primetime” broadcast of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, which will begin streaming at 8 p.m. EST Friday on Peacock.

Check out how to stream the 2022 Olympics, and anyone curious can dig into how the Olympics broadcast will affect their regularly scheduled NBC programming.

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Heidi Venable is a Content Producer for CinemaBlend, a mom of two and a hard-core '90s kid. She started freelancing for CinemaBlend in 2020 and officially came on board in 2021. Her job entails writing news stories and TV reactions from some of her favorite prime-time shows like Grey's Anatomy and The Bachelor. She graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a degree in Journalism and worked in the newspaper industry for almost two decades in multiple roles including Sports Editor, Page Designer and Online Editor. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.