Olympic sailing champion Hannah Mills and gold medal-winning rower Mohamed Sbihi have been selected as Team GB’s flagbearers for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Last year, the International Olympic Association announced a rule change that allowed ruling national bodies to nominate one male and one female athlete to carry the flag - and the British Olympic Association has taken full advantage.
Both athletes were picked by a panel headed by chef de mission Mark England, after they were put forward by their sports as athletes that "exemplify the Olympic Values and uphold the Team GB Values of Pride, Responsibility, Respect and Unity."
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Mills, who recently told Eurosport that Tokyo is likely to be her last Games, won gold with Saskia Clark in the 470 class at Rio 2016, after claiming silver as a pair at London 2012.
Sbihi is also at his third Olympics, and continued the rich Team GB tradition in the men’s rowing four in Brazil by winning gold, four years after he came away from London with bronze in the men’s eight.
They follow in the footsteps of Andy Murray, Chris Hoy and Anita Lonsbrough, who was the first female athlete to carry the union flag at a summer Games, fittingly also in Tokyo in 1964.
It is still not clear how many Team GB athletes will attend Friday’s event, with The Times yesterday reporting as few as 30 could be there because of coronavirus concerns. No spectators from the general public will be inside the Olympic Stadium, but a number of IOC VIPs, including sponsors, will be.
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“To be asked to carry the flag for Team GB at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games is not a sentence I ever thought I’d say,” said Mills.
When Mark (England) told me I had been chosen, it was completely overwhelming and when I had a moment to think about what it meant I got pretty emotional.
“It is the greatest honour in my career and I hope more than ever before that this Games can lift our country and deliver some incredible sporting moments to inspire the nation.”
Sbihi was also delighted to be given the once in a lifetime opportunity: “It is such an honour to be invited to be the flagbearer for Team GB. It is an iconic moment within the Olympic Movement – people remember those images. I certainly remember the images of Andy from Rio and even before I was a rower I remember seeing Sir Matt and Sir Steve, so it is something I am incredibly proud of.
“It is going to be a surreal experience actually going to an Opening Ceremony but this year with the racing schedule it is actually manageable even if I wasn’t a flagbearer. It will be really special and will complete my Olympic puzzle.
I’ve won a medal, been to the Closing Ceremony but now to actually turn up at an Opening Ceremony and be at the head of the team alongside Hannah it will be a lifetime memory that I will never forget.
Rowers are not often able to go to the opening ceremony because of the schedule, but Sbihi does not go in the heats until late on Saturday, Tokyo time.
Mills has a new partner for the 470 this year, with Eilidh McIntyre filling the void left by Clark, who retired after Rio. They are not due to get underway until Wednesday.
“Having spoken personally with Hannah and Moe, it was clear to see what this honour meant to them,” said Mark England.
“Not only what it meant personally, but also for their teammates and wider delegation in what has been the most difficult and unprecedented 18 months for everyone in the United Kingdom.
“Both athletes embody the Values of Team GB and they are thoroughly deserving of this great honour. Hannah and Moe have already created multiple Olympic memories and I have no doubt they will add to these in Tokyo over the next 16 days.”
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