By Jeremy Wilson
Hannah Mills and Mohamed Sbihi, Olympic gold-medal winners in sailing and rowing, have been selected as the Team GB flagbearers for Friday’s opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Games.
In a break from tradition, the International Olympic Committee is allowing federations to nominate one female and one male athlete for the honour and, ahead of defending their Rio Olympic titles, Mills and Sbihi have been selected.
The decision was made by a panel headed by Team GB chef de mission Mark England and they will follow Sir Andy Murray and Sir Chris Hoy, the respective flag bearers in Rio and London, as well as Anita Lonsborough, who was the first female to carry the flag for Team GB in Tokyo in 1964. Team GB said that Mills and Sbihi exemplified their four core values of pride, responsibility, respect and unity.
Mills, who will be defending her women’s 470 title alongside Eilidh McIntyre in Tokyo, will become the first female sailor to carry the British flag whilst Sbihi, a gold medallist in the men’s four five years ago, is the fourth rower to be given the privilege to march at the head of what will be a dramatically reduced delegation.
With athletes terrified of catching Covid-19 or being identified as close contacts, as well as the staggered entry into Tokyo and the Olympic Village, only around 30 of the 376 strong team are expected to attend the opening ceremony.
“To be asked to carry the flag for Team GB at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is not a sentence I ever thought I’d say,” said Mills, who also won silver at London. “When Mark (England) told me I had been chosen, it was completely overwhelming and when I had a moment to think about what it meant I got pretty emotional.
“It is the greatest honour in my career and I hope more than ever before that this Games can lift our country and deliver some incredible sporting moments to inspire the nation.”
Sbihi, who along with the rowing team is staying in the Olympic Village for the first time since Sydney 2000, spoke of her memories of seeing fellow rowers, Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent, carry the flag.
“It is an iconic moment within the Olympic movement – people remember those images,” said Sbihi, who also won bronze at London 2012. “It is going to be a surreal experience actually going to an opening ceremony but this year with the racing schedule it is actually manageable even if I wasn’t a flagbearer. It will be really special and will complete my Olympic puzzle. It will be a lifetime memory that I will never forget.”