Sir Chris Hoy could be facing something of a dilemma in a few weeks’ time. As the most successful athlete from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the track sprinter is a hot favourite to be the Team GB flagbearer at the London 2012 opening ceremony on July 27.
But that’s not part of the plan.
The British track squad is due to stay in its holding camp in Newport, South Wales until Saturday, July 28, missing the opening ceremony and travelling up on the day of the road race when all eyes are on Box Hill and Pall Mall.
The issue of who carries the flag for the British team as they walk into the main stadium with an estimated worldwide audience of one billion could, however, throw a spanner in the works.
The British Olympic Association confirmed the exact procedure for choosing that person is still to be finalised. It will however, start with a vote, with each sport getting to nominate one athlete.
That list is then narrowed down to the chosen individual by a panel of athlete representatives and the BOA’s Chef de Mission Andy Hunt. The choice is usually announced the day before the ceremony, but this year the BOA are likely to make the announcement on July 23, four days before.
So who is in the running to get the nod?
In Beijing, swimmer Mark Foster had the honour. Foster never won an Olympic medal, but he was one of the elder statesmen of the team with a wealth of experience and six world titles to his name.
In 2004 Judoka Kate Howey carried the flag in what was her fourth Games, before her it was Matthew Pinsent and (twice) Sir Steve Redgrave.
Traditionally, the British flag bearer is an elder, experienced athlete, rather than the most successful athlete from the previous Games. But Hoy fills that role too. He was, after all, chosen to carry the flag in Beijing’s closing ceremony.
The case for Hoy as London flag-bearer is strong. London will be his fourth Games, he has four Olympic gold medals (three from Beijing) among his huge international medal haul that now stands at 82 (86 if you include Commonwealth Games), and he has the image to boot.
Sailor Ben Ainslie, swimmer Rebecca Adlington, diver Tom Dailey and track and field athletes Jessica Ennis, Mo Farrah and Philips Odowu could all be in the running, but it’s not unfair to say that Hoy’s status has always been a level above.
After the success of Beijing, he returned to the UK as the talisman of the GB team that finished a surprising fourth in the medal table. He was voted BBC Sport’s Personality of the Year a few months later and was the only athlete to receive a knighthood. He is instantly recognisable, hugely respected, and the most decorated and celebrated athlete in the whole of the British team.
So what if he was chosen?
“If I was nominated and chosen as a flag bearer, it would be one of the greatest honours of my career; to represent Great Britain and walk out in front of a home crowd at a home Olympics would be incredible.” Hoy said.
As yet, no one will commit 100 per cent either way. The decision hasn’t been made and it may not happen. At the moment none of the GB cyclists are due to go to the opening ceremony. It will be the biggest moment of some athletes lives, but for the likes of Hoy, Pendleton, Cavendish and Wiggins you couldn’t think of a less appealing thing to do.
If you were writing a training program for an athlete to hit a four-year peak on August 2, you wouldn’t plan in six hours of standing around in new (they’ll all be in their new Adidas kit) trainers, getting dehydrated just six days before.
But how can you turn down an opportunity like that? As home nation, the British team will be the last to enter the stadium and the eyes of the world will be on them. For whoever is chosen to carry the Union flag it’s an honour that simply could not be turned down.
So, although no one is willing to comment, British Cycling staff know it’s a possibility, and know that it would be an immense, perhaps never-to-be-repeated, opportunity for their sport, and have started planning for that eventuality. Just in case.
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