U.S. flag-bearer seldom obvious choice
By Steve Keating
LONDON (Reuters) - A four-time Olympian who has won 14 gold medals and has said he is retiring at the end of the London Games, Michael Phelps would seem the ideal athlete to lead the United States into the opening ceremony on Friday.
But the honor of leading the U.S. team into a Summer Games has seldom gone to the obvious choice.
Since opening ceremonies became part of the Olympics in 1906 and U.S. team manager Matthew Halpin was named flag-bearer, few, if any, of those chosen for the job could be described as being household names.
Four-years ago at the Beijing Games the honor fell on refugee Lopez Lomong, one of the "Lost Boys" from war-ravaged Sudan who found a home in the United States, an unknown 1,500 meter runner who has never appeared in an Olympic final.
At the 2004 Athens Olympics, it was Dawn Staley, a triple gold medalist on the women's basketball team charged with carrying the flag while kayaker Cliff Meidl, who nearly lost both his legs in a construction accident then battled back to become a two-time Olympian, handled duties in Sydney.
This year the U.S. flag-bearer will come from a pool of 530 athletes.
The captains from 26 teams each put forward a nominee followed by a secret vote where inspirational stories and long service have often carried as much weight as performance and results.
"That's what makes it special, they are not only representing their country but they are also representing their team mates," said United States Olympic Committee (USOC) spokesperson Patrick Sandusky. Continued...