Tonga's famous flag bearer Pita Taufatofua achieves his 'impossible dream'

Updated 9:29 AM ET, Fri February 9, 2018

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(CNN)Walking out into Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium, his bare, muscular torso glistening with a generous amount of oil, Pita Taufatofua's life changed in an instant.

Carrying Tonga's flag at the 2016 Olympic Games opening ceremony, wearing little more than a traditional Tongan mat around his waist, Taufatofua gained immediate fame -- and plenty of admirers.
It's fair to say his life hasn't been quite the same since.
But of the millions watching around the world, few had any idea of the sacrifice and determination behind Taufatofua's dream of becoming an Olympic athlete.
"It's quite funny because that moment was a really big thing, but it was 20 years of hard work behind that moment just to actually get there," Taufatofua told CNN ahead of the start of the Winter Olympics.
The Tongan braved freezing cold conditions at the Opening Ceremony on Friday to repeat his star turn, waving his country's flag with his torso again liberally oiled.
    "It certainly changed my life in many, many different and interesting ways," he added, referring to that 2016 moment
    Now, not content with being the first person to represent his country in taekwondo at an Olympics, Taufatofua is taking part at the Winter Games in PyeongChang as Tonga's first cross-country skier.
    And with only about three months' experience on snow.

    Winter dream

    Born in Australia but raised in Tonga, Taufatofua announced his plans to try to qualify for the Winter Olympics' "most difficult sport" in December 2016.
    Ahead of his first ever race, he had clocked only four weeks of training on snow.
    "When you've got no snow, it's really hard to learn a snow sport so we looked at all the different ways I could mimic being on snow without actually being on snow," he said.
    "We found roller skis, I'd strap planks of wood to my feet and run on the beach, just to try and find that balance point, and I'd watch a lot of YouTube and see what the professionals were doing, and I'd try and mimic that mentally in my head."
    A wry smile creeps across Taufatofua's face at the mention of roller skiing -- "quite possibly the worst thing ever invented," he says.