Is the Tongan flagbearer set for another sport switch?

When the buzz of Rio, and of overnight Olympic fame, had died down in the fall of 2016, Pita Taufatofua had never been on skis before.

He'd barely ever seen snow.

On Friday, the Tongan flagbearer will glide across it for 15km at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

If the unbelievable story of Tonga's shirtless flag bearer tells us anything, it's that the transformative power of social media cannot be underestimated.

And for Taufatofua, the mantra that anything is possible in 2020.

Taufatofua dropped a massive hint to reporters at PyeongChang on Wednesday that a return to the Summer Olympics in 2020 could be on the cards - albeit in a different discipline.

"Maybe water's the next thing. Something in the water. Stay tuned," he said.

If he can do cross-country skiing, why not open-water swimming?

The pool events are options as well, of course. Then there’s canoeing, rowing and sailing. There’s diving.

Most enticing of all is the prospect of Taufatofua recruiting an entire team of synchronized swimmers to represent Tonga.

If it all sounds like a pipe dream, one can argue so was a Tongan taekwondo athlete, at age 33, taking up a completely new sport and qualifying for the Winter Olympics.

Taufatofua has already done that so a crack at the Tokyo Games isn't impossible but it would be remarkable.

When you see how much he cherishes the Olympic experience, it's difficult to doubt his drive.

Will the Tongan flagbearer return in a new sport at the 2020 Games? Pic: Getty

He spoke eloquently this week on various topics, including his topless antics in frigid PyeongChang temperatures for the Opening Ceremony.

"When I wave that flag I want to represent 1,000 years of history," he said.

"If my ancestors can sail across the oceans for 1,000 years not knowing where the next piece of land is, not knowing where their next meal is going to be … I can walk for 25 minutes through an Opening Ceremony without a shirt on."

Taufatofua has come to PyeongChang with no illusions about his chances to compete with his more experienced opponents. He knows he will not medal.

He jokingly revealed that his goals were to "finish before they turn the lights off… and don't ski into a tree."

But a medal isn't what his trip to PyeongChang is about. It's about the process, not the results.

The beauty is in the journey, which took Taufatofua across the globe and back, across Europe by car, and to Iceland. And he can explain that beauty as well as anybody can.

Taufatofua is relishing the Winter Olympic experience. Pic: Getty

"If you look at the Olympic creed, it's about struggle," Taufatofua said.

"The guy who gets a gold medal, he's gonna burn his lungs until he collapses at the finish line. The guy who comes last is gonna burn his lungs until he collapses at the finish line.

"None of them are gonna give up. One may be faster than the other but they're still gonna give everything that they have.

"But at the end of the day, there's gonna be three athletes on that podium. There's gonna be 80 athletes, I think 80 in that race, who don’t get a medal.

"There's gonna be 80 million behind them who do cross-country skiing, or more than 80 million, who wanted to be a skier. … But it's the struggle that's gonna translate to all other areas of life for all of these other 80-plus million people.

"What is it that we do with that, that inspires those millions of kids that are watching, to push through with their challenges in life?

"That's the Olympic spirit, and that's what's important for me."

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