Olympic viewers hoping to catch a familiar glimpse of Pita Taufatofua, the Tongan athlete perhaps best known for appearing shirtless as his country’s flagbearer and for participating in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, will not see him on Friday at the Opening Ceremony at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Taufatofua, who competed in both taekwondo and cross-country skiing, will instead focus on helping Tonga recover from a tsunami that devastated the island nation in January.
“Right now I have another task that calls me, I must answer,” Taufatofua wrote on Instagram on Wednesday.
The Olympics' Instagram account responded: "Showing us the best of the Olympic spirit, Pita!"
Taufatofua, 38, told the New York Times that he will miss not taking part in the Olympics, but there are “too many people who are hungry for me to not be focused there,” and that “what the Olympics stands for is more than just sport, and so I feel there’s some level of Olympic effort that we’re doing now anyway.”
Taufatofua’s GoFundMe page has raised more than $800,000 in disaster relief. He told the Times that he does plan to compete in the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, and that this was “not a stop” but “a halftime break.”
Taufatofua was the first Tongan athlete to compete in the Olympics in taekwondo in 2016. In 2018, he made the Olympics as a cross-country skier. And at the 2020 Games, he returned to taekwondo.
“Three Olympics in a row I have been blessed with all your kindness,” Taufatofua wrote on Instagram. “Not everything is in our control. That said I embrace both the good and the bad as part of life, and I do so with a smile.”
The Instagram post was, appropriately, accompanied by a photo of a shirtless, smiling and oiled-up Taufatofua on skis in the snow.