Pyeongchang (South Korea) (AFP) – The Tongan flag-bearer’s secret has been revealed: it was coconut oil that kept him warm when he paraded half-naked at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony.
Pita Taufatofua braved bitter cold to go topless at the ceremony, where real-feel temperatures were down at minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 Fahrenheit).
But while many wondered how he could march in only a traditional skirt and sandals without getting frostbite, the answer lies in the oil he had liberally applied to his torso.
“Pita secretly brought his tiny bottle of coconut oil in his pocket,” Louise Waterhouse, Tonga’s Honorary Consul in Sydney, told the Matangi Tonga Online website.
“And just before Tonga’s marching time, when the march organisers saw what Pita was doing, they were then so helpful and even gave him a little side room to keep warm immediately before the entrance to the stadium!”
Coconut oil is, apparently, a traditional Tongan remedy to ward off cold.
Taufatofua was also heavily greased up when he appeared similarly undressed at the Rio 2016 Olympics opening ceremony, causing a major stir online — and he again became a global sensation with his latest antics.
While other athletes either skipped Friday’s sub-zero ceremony, or made sure they wrapped up warm — Team USA had battery-powered, heated jackets — Taufatofua just needed his coconut oil.
“Pita’s honorary coach Thomas Jacob had his jacket in his back pack — ready to put on in the stand,” said Waterhouse, who is supporting Team Tonga in Pyeongchang.
“But Pita said to me afterwards at the athletes village: ‘I wasn’t cold walking — the coconut oil kept me warm. It was only once I was seated that I became cold,’” she added.
“He is absolutely fine and naturally chuffed that he could pull off his coup again and so proud to do it for Tonga. He has again put Tonga on the world map.”
Taufatofua competed in taekwondo in Rio, before switching to cross-country and qualifying for Pyeongchang — after a journey which included training with planks strapped to his feet in sweltering Australian heat.