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Pita Taufatofua: GoFundMe set up by Tonga’s Olympic flagbearer raises over $310,000

<i>Dan Istitene/Getty Images</i><br/>Pita Taufatofua of Tonga stands on stage during the Closing Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on February 25
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Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Pita Taufatofua of Tonga stands on stage during the Closing Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on February 25

By Alex Stambaugh and Ben Morse, CNN

A fundraising campaign set up by Tonga’s Olympic flagbearer Pita Taufatofua has raised over $310,000 after Saturday’s massive volcanic eruption.

Widely known for bearing his oiled up chest during the opening ceremonies at both the Summer and Winter Olympics, Taufatofua established a GoFundMe fundraising page, which CNN has verified, on Monday following the disaster.

According to the GoFundMe page, the funds would go “towards those most in need” as well as repairs of infrastructure, and schools and hospitals that were damaged.

“As you all know a large Tsunami caused by a volcanic eruption has devastated Tonga … We are seeking your donations to help our island Kingdom,” the fundraising page says. “Your assistance and support in this time of need is greatly appreciated.”

Describing the eruption as an “unprecedented disaster,” Tongan Prime Minster Siaosi Sovaleni added that a “volcanic mushroom plume” has extended to cover all of the country’s roughly 170 islands — of which 36 are inhabited — impacting the entire population of more than 100,000 people.

An athlete in taekwondo and cross-country skiing, Taufatofua posted on Instagram Wednesday that he has yet to hear from his father, the Governor of Haapai, who was on the main island of Tongatapu at the time of the eruption.

Taufatofua, added in the post, however, that their family home on the island of Haapai is still standing.

“Just received word that our family on the main island of Haapai is safe and that our Ha’apai home ‘Fuino’ is still standing! Its over 100 years old and has been through many cyclones and now a tsunami,” Taufatofua wrote.

“Still no word from my Father or our family on Kotu and surrounding lower islands.”

Olympic hero

Taufatofua represented Tonga in taekwondo at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and in cross-country skiing at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018.

What made him go viral, though, were the images of him at the 2016 opening ceremony, shirtless, oiled up and wearing a traditional Tongan mat around his waist while waving his country’s flag. In South Korea two years later, braving the cold, Taufatofua did it again.

And at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Taufatofua delighted fans once more, appearing shirtless and oiled with Tonga’s flag, but with a co-flagbearer, Malia Maile Paseka, who competed in the taekwondo.

Taufatofua had been training for taekwondo as well as attempting to qualify for sprint kayaking for the 2020 Games, a sport he was picking up as a nod to his ancestors, as well as for environmental reasons.

“I want to bring awareness to the oceans, to our planet and make people see that what’s happening to our planet is something that we all need to be aware of,” Taufatofua told CNN Sports’ Amanda Davies.

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“I just love being out on the ocean, being out at sea. It’s a sport that excites me. I haven’t learned it yet, but it excites me at the same time.”

However, he failed to qualify in the sprint kayak, meaning he competed solely in the taekwondo.

Nonetheless Taufatofua still made history as he became the first person to have competed in three consecutive Olympic Games since the introduction of the Winter Olympics in 1924.

In his GoFundMe post the 38-year-old Taufatofua said he is currently in a “training camp in Australia.”

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