Pita Taufatofua says his appearance alone at the 2018 Winter Olympics is a win, and inspiring to kids back home in his island nation

By Caitlin Keating
February 16, 2018 11:21 AM

Despite coming in 114th place in the 15km cross-country skiing event during the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Friday, Pita Taufatofua – known to many as the shirtless Tongan — isn’t disappointed.

Instead, he hopes to inspire others from his home country.

“People from the Pacific, these kids who are watching now, they’ll have access to something that they never knew existed before,” he said in a press conference, according to the Huffington Post. “And to me, that’s why I’m here.”

Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/REX/Shutterstock

At 34, the skier who took 56:46.1 to complete the entire course, joked about his less-than-stellar finish: “The first step — finish before they turn the lights off; that’s number one.”

He added: “Don’t ski into a tree, that’s number two.”

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Credit: Timo Jaakonaho/REX/Shutterstock

Taufatofua knows what it’s like to make headline news for many reasons. Slathered in coconut oil and carrying the Tongan flag during the opening ceremony for the 2016 summer games in Rio, he made headline news.

“That was a complete surprise,” he told PEOPLE. “I had no idea how much attention that would get. In Tonga where you have a lot of traditional dances, the oil and the outfit I was wearing was quite normal. But in Rio it turned out to be a pretty big deal.”

Credit: Jae C. Hong/AP/REX/Shutterstock

He carried the flag again during last week’s opening ceremony, and delighted and shocked fans when he carried the flag shirtless again despite freezing temperatures.

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The Australian-born Olympian made good on his promise to find a new challenge after the summer Games.

“I want to find something that’s the hardest possible sport I can think of and see if it’s possible to get Tonga qualified within a year,” he said, which would end up being cross-country skiing in Pyeongchang.

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After only 12 weeks on skies, Taufatofua took to Facebook to let his fans know how excited he was for the Games.

Now, he’s ready to take on his next challenge, although he’s not sure what it will exactly look like.

“Maybe water’s the next thing,” he recently told reporters. “Something in the water. Stay tuned.”