Follow Live: Olympic Opening Ceremony in Beijing

debt…Duck Mills / The New York Times

Pita Taufatofua, a Tongan athlete, best known for her role as a shirtless and oil-painted flag bearer, will not compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics – much to the disappointment of loyal opening ceremony spectators who relied on her bright arrival.

Three-time Olympian, who has competed in taekwondo and cross-country skiing, instead focuses on disaster response. A powerful tsunami It struck his native island nation after a nearby volcano erupted with great force. In January, he had not yet qualified to compete and had not attempted to qualify after the disaster.

“Even with the eligibility criteria, I could not have gone to Beijing,” he said, because in Tonga, “many people who are hungry for me are not paying attention there.”

“I definitely miss it,” Taufatofua said, but “the Olympics are more than just a sport, so I feel like we’re involved in the Olympic effort now anyway.”

Parts of the Pacific island nation of Tonga, with a population of about 100,000, were about 40 miles[40 km]from the eruption site. The country was covered in ashes, and many residents lost both communication and power. Taufatofua heard from his father a few days ago to make sure he was safe.

Taufatofua was launched immediately GoFundMe Page for relief work. While at a training camp in Australia, he wrote on the page, “We need your help in the coming days and weeks.” “The initial priority for funding is to do damage to the most needy, such as infrastructure and schools and hospitals.” The page has raised nearly $ 800,000, or about $ 571,000.

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The 38-year-old Taufatofua has made history as a rare athlete to compete in both summer and winter sports. Taufatofua first competed as the first Tongan to qualify for the Taekwondo Summer Games in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

But he made headlines after marching shirtless and in traditional Tongan attire at the opening ceremony, where he repeated it in the freezing temperatures at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyongyang, South Korea, and in the hot weather in Tokyo last year.

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