You remember the greased-up Tongan, don’t you? It seems like forever ago that Tonga’s flag bearer strode straight from the Opening Ceremony of the Rio Olympics straight into the hearts of millions of viewers.
His name is Pita Taufatofua, friends, and he’s a Taekwondo specialist competing in the 80kg division. And finally, after two weeks on the sidelines and some stunning worldwide attention, Taufatofua got his chance in the Olympics. It didn’t last long, but that wasn’t really ever the point.
Taufatofua is the living embodiment of Olympic joy, albeit in much better shape than most of the millions watching him. He fell in love with the Olympic ideal in 1996, and then failed on three separate occasions to make the Tongan Olympic team in Athens, Beijing, and London. Finally, this year, he made the team, and was rewarded with the honor of carrying Tonga’s flag during the Opening Ceremony, and he became the Games’ first star.
Two weeks after his worldwide debut, Taufatofua walked into an arena shouting TONGA! TONGA!, absolutely determined to enjoy every brief minute of his Olympic dream. He mugged for the cameras, waved to the crowd, and theatrically posed in the moments prior to his qualifying-round bout.
Unfortunately for Taufatofua, that bout came against Iran’s Sajjad Mardani, a former silver medalist in the world championships and a vastly superior opponent. In the first two-minute round, Taufatofua charged straight at Mardani but couldn’t land a blow; Mardani clocked Taufatofua with a three-point head shot 25 seconds in, and that was as close as the Tongan ever got.
Taekwondo matches run three two-minute rounds, unless one competitor is 12 points ahead after two rounds. Mardani was eight points ahead after one round, and extended the lead to 12-0 within the first minute of the second round. Taufatofua did manage to gain a point, but the final score was Marjjad 16, Taufatofua 1.
Even so, Taufatofua left the mat smiling, the cheers of the crowd ringing around him. He left the Olympics as he arrived, holding the flag of Tonga high, although a bit less greasy this time.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.