The secrets behind the flag-bearing tradition

With the London 2012 Games officially starting on Friday, Al Jazeera discovers four Olympic flag-bearing tales.

Flying the flag is a tradition that has opened up some political wounds in the past [AFP/GETTY]
Flying the flag is a tradition that has opened up some political wounds in the past [AFP/GETTY]

Chris Hoy will carry Team GB’s flag into the Olympic Stadium on Friday, following a tradition that was started over 100 years ago at the 1908 London games.

Here we look at the history of the flag-bearing tradition and the problems that have arised on the big day.  

1. GB’s missing flag

Hoy will be hoping to have better luck than the British team did with their flag in 1948.

Whilst every other country carried their flags of symmetrical size on a wooden pole, the host nations was smaller and flying from a brass tipped pole.

Moments before the ceremony was due to start the team suddenly realised the Union Jack had gone missing. Despite a truck full of flags the red, white and blue was no where to be seen.

It was four-minute-mile man Roger Bannister who saved the day, he was sent to retrieve a union jack from a coach’s car.

With only minutes to spare the car was locked when he arrived. With no key he had to resort to taking a brick and smashing the cars window to retrieve the flag. He raced back and arrived with the makeshift flag just as the procession started to make its way into the stadium.

2. Isn’t that our flag?

The early Olympic ceremonies were often the first time many of the countries had encountered each other. 

This proved a problem back in 1936. 

It’s unlikely that any of the nations lining up on Friday will have the same issue as Liechtenstein and Haiti did at the Berlin Games.

The two countries realised they had the same flag.

It was only then that Liechtenstein added a gold crown to their standard.

3. Tall order for China

China didn’t parade as a sole delegation with their modern day flag until the 1984 Olympic Games.

Prior to this there were disputes over the national flag due to the nation being represented by the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China. 

They have kept their flag bearer for the 2012 Games as a state secret, only announcing that they will be ‘tall, handsome and influential’.

NBA basketballer Yi Jianlian and 1.89 metres tall hurdler Liu are the two members of the team most likely to fit the bill.

4. Secret ballot

America are set to choose another unlikely flag bearer, at the Beijing Olympics it was refugee Lopez Lomong who carried the stars and stripes.

The Sudan born 1500 metre runner had never appeared in an Olympic final and was relative unknown. In Sydney kayaker Cliff Meidl, who nearly lost both his legs in a construction accident then battled back to become a two-time Olympian, took the honour.

The US flag bearer is chosen by secret vote from nominees put forward by the captains from their twenty six teams, where inspirational stories often outweigh performance and results.

Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers basketballer and Serena Williams are both said to be in contention for the honour, as is the oldest athlete in the team, event rider Karen O’Connor.

On Friday, the world’s greatest athletes will once more proudly display their flags before a global audience as the greatest sporting event in the world is officially waved in.  

And history will be made once more. 

Source : Al Jazeera

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