Australia’s most successful track cyclist Anna Meares has been given the honour of leading the 2016 Australian Team into the Opening Ceremony of the Rio Olympic Games, after she was revealed as Flagbearer in Melbourne today.
Meares, who is off to her fourth Games at Rio, said it was a privilege to be announced in front of thousands of cheering fans and Olympians at Federation Square.
“It’s a huge honour. When Kitty (Chiller) flew to Adelaide and told me I was extremely emotional, we were both pretty emotional. It kind of felt like she was proposing to be quite honest. She asked and I said yes!”
With cycling traditionally in the second week of the Games, this will be her first Opening Ceremony.
“I’ve never marched at an Olympic Games, what a way to do it as a first-timer.
“All my life I dreamt of being an Olympian, an Olympic champion and representing Australia I never contemplated or dreamt that I could be the flagbearer.”
2016 Chef de Mission Kitty Chiller, a Sydney 2000 Olympian, said her choice of Meares’ reflects the Adelaide-based athletes’ courage and determination across her career.
“Anna is the epitome of what our Team represents – respect, humility and excellence. She is a role model to many, across all sports and in the community,” Chiller said.
“She was selected for her fourth Olympic Team yesterday and she will inspire not only her cycling teammates in Rio but the entire Team.
“Anna is already an inspiration to Australia and I know she will take on this role with the commitment and pride that has been the hallmark of her career to date.”
Announcing the Flagbearer in Australia breaks with the long-held tradition of naming the athlete the day before the Opening Ceremony, but Chiller believes this will help the athlete in their preparation and allow them to enjoy the moment.
“This way Anna gets to savour the moment with the Australian public before she heads off to Rio and enjoy the honour for several weeks,” she said.
“I didn’t want someone having to do a full day of media before the Opening Ceremony and then being exhausted and not being able to fully enjoy it. We want it to be the best day of their lives, besides perhaps winning a medal.”
Meares will be aiming to become Australia’s first three-time Olympic champion across any cycling discipline. She claimed her first Olympic medal 12 years ago at the Athens 2004 Games, becoming the Olympic champion in the 500m time trial before winning bronze in the sprint.
Meares made one of the great comebacks in Australian Olympic history when she won a silver medal in the women’s sprint cycling at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. Seven months out from the Games she broke her neck in a race crash and after months of intensive rehab ensured she was back on the bike in Beijing.
She went on to claim a gold medal at the London 2012 Games over long-time rival Great Britain’s Victoria Pendleton.
Basketballer Andrew Gaze had the honour of carrying the flag at the Sydney 2000 Games in front of his home crowd. He was at Federation Square alongside fellow past Flagbearers Lauren Jackson (London 2012), James Tomkins (Beijing 2008) and Jenny Donnet (Barcelona 1992) to witness Meares being named as the 2016 recipient.
“My message is to just enjoy yourself. It’s a huge honour, enjoy the moment and the experience, and share it with your teammates,” Gaze said.