Competing at the Olympic Games is undoubtedly a career milestone for any athlete – but for a chosen few, the added honour of carrying their country’s national flag during the opening ceremony of the global sports showpiece is a huge honour.
By carrying their national flag during the Parade of Nations, the flagbearer becomes an enduring symbol of their national values and, indeed, of Olympic ideals – not to mention an inspiration for future generations.
Some are appointed by their National Olympic Committee, and others are chosen by their teammates.
Ahead of the much-anticipated Games that roar into life this Friday, New Era Sport caught up with some previous flagbearers to share what it meant to them.
Namibia made her debut at the Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992 and immediately had success in two of the most high-profile events at the Games – the men’s 100m and 200m sprints.
Sprint legend Frank Fredericks, who carried the flag that year, won silver in both events. He led a team of six athletes.
He was recently quoted on social media as saying it was a magnificent feeling to be able to walk the parade with the national flag.
“The Games of 1992 forever changed my life. It was a wonderful feeling to be the flag bearer and also to be the first to win a medal for my beloved Namibia,” wrote Fredericks.
He repeated the double-silver result at the 1996 Games.
Shooter Friedhelm Sack then carried the national flag during the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta, USA. He led seven Namibians into the stadium that year.
Sack told New Era Sport the experience was priceless, saying it is one of the most fascinating feelings one could ever feel.
“It’s an experience that one cannot pay for with money; it’s the most exciting feeling that you will ever feel. The fact that competing at the Games itself is already a big deal, I believe there is no other better feeling than having that privilege to carry your national flag at the Olympics,” explained Sack, who also competed at the Sydney and Athens Games.
Former Namibian welterweight boxer Paulus ‘Ali’ Nuumbembe.
Also nicknamed ‘The Silent Assassin’, the former Commonwealth champion was team captain of 11 athletes at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
He said the experience was unbelievable, given the fact that it was his first time there and got chosen amongst other deserving athletes.
“It was an honour for me to be able to carry the flag at the opening ceremony, which is one of the greatest honours that was bestowed upon me. I was happy to carry the pride of our country at a big stage, such as that of the Olympics,” said Nuumbembe.
Another boxer Paulus Ambunda piloted his teammates into the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. He said being a flagbearer at the Olympics does not come easy and it is every athlete’s dream to be handed that opportunity.
“It’s a big thing for an athlete to carry the flag during the parade at the Olympics because all eyes are on you. People try to figure out who you are, which also make people think maybe you are a big star back in your home country. It’s a feeling that’s unmatched; you become the centre of attraction,” Ambunda told this publication.
Cyclist Mannie Heymans, who had the honourable mission during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, said: “It’s pretty special to represent your country at the Olympic Games, but then to lead your team and carry your nation’s flag on such an occasion is a little mind
That year, Namibia was represented by 10 athletes. Heymans also participated in the 2000 and 2004 Games, and this year is manager/coach of cyclist Tristan de Lange at the event.
Former trap shooter and now Namibia Athletes’ Commissioner, Gaby Ahrens carried the flag during the 2012 Games in London, England, for a team of nine competitors.
Ahrens, who became the first Namibian female to be bestowed the honour, said the experience was a proud moment for her.
“It was the proudest moment of my life – such an honour to lead the best athletes of Namibia into the stadium. I still get goosebumps, thinking about it,” Ahrens told New Era Sport. She also competed at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Summer Games in the women’s trap event.
The third boxer to carry the flag was Jonas Junius Jonas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016.
Jonas will again have the honour this year to lead the delegation, together with rower Maike Diekmann.
Namibia National Olympic Committee secretary general Joan Smit told this reporter the Opening Ceremony will be different this year in that two athletes will bear the flag during the opening ceremony and two during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Games.
Sprinters Beatrice Masilingi and Christine Mboma will have the privilege to do so during the closing ceremony on 8 August 2021.
Neither Jonas nor Diekmann could be reached for comment by the time this article was published.