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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Tongan cross-country skier Pita Taufatofua braves the cold to go bare-chested at Winter Olympics opening ceremony

The 34 year old repeats outfit from 2016 Rio Games as proceedings get underway in Pyeonchang.

Pita Taufatofua carries the flag of Tonga during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Jae C Hong / AP Photo
Pita Taufatofua carries the flag of Tonga during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Jae C Hong / AP Photo

Tongan cross-country skier Pita Taufatofua stole the show at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic opening ceremony on Friday when he entered the stadium bare-chested again, despite icy sub-zero temperatures.

The 34-year-old caused a stir at the 2016 Rio Games when he oiled himself up and went topless as Tonga's flag-bearer.

With the Pyeongchang Olympics threatening to be one of the coldest Games on record, Taufatofua had said he would be keeping his clothes on for the gala opening after swapping taekwondo for a pair of skis.

But lo and behold, once more he strode into the arena glistening with oil and bare-chested, wearing just a traditional male ta'ovala skirt as he waved Tonga's flag around like a spear.

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A self-proclaimed beach bum, Taufatofua became an instant online hit in Rio, racking up 45 million mentions on Twitter and later leading to appearances on international talk shows and other lucrative opportunities.

The Tongan's brave cameo at Friday's opening ceremony, where the two Koreas marched together in a symbol of what organisers are calling the "Peace Games", is likely to boost his celebrity still further.

If nothing else, Taufatofua, who used to strap planks of wood to his feet to recreate the rigours of cross-country skiing in sweltering Australia, will have put the South Pacific island of Tonga on the map at the Winter Games.

"You will inspire us all to live together in peace and harmony despite all the differences we have," said International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said during the ceremony.

"You will inspire us by competing for the highest honour in the Olympic spirit of excellence, respect and fair play," said Bach.

"You can only enjoy your Olympic performance if you respect the rules and stay clean."

Russia's athletes entered the ceremony behind a neutral flag after their team was suspended over a doping scandal. Despite the ban 168 "Olympic Athletes from Russia" will compete in Pyeongchang.

Just hours earlier, 47 Russians lost a court bid to take part in the Games after they were left off the list of athletes deemed clean from doping.

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