Friday, August 08, 2008

Beijing 2008: Flag Bearers

In about 8 hours from now, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games will officially get underway with the much anticipated Opening Ceremony. This will surely be a spectacular show put on by the Chinese, to be capped by the exciting Parade of Nations (in Chinese “alphabetical” order, Ethiopia at #148) followed by the lighting of the cauldron.

As the Parade of Nations proceeds, thousands of the world’s finest athletes representing 205 countries will march in to the Beijing National Stadium dressed in their national costumes and proudly waving their nation’s flag. Every four years, I wait attentively for the entrance of the Ethiopian team and it is always a proud moment when the team enters and the TV commentators recount Ethiopia’s prominence in distance running and glories of past Olympics. It is truly a moment when Ethiopia is front and center on the world stage.

For the majority of the athletes, the Parade of Nations is the highlight of their Olympic participation as they have no chance of winning a medal. All athletes appear to genuinely enjoy the cheers they receive as they walk in behind their nation’s flag. Many are seen with cameras and camcorders capturing a moment of history.

Among the more than 10,000 athletes that will march in the Parade of Nations, a select group will have the honor of carrying their nation’s flag and leading their team mates as they enter the stadium. Being selected to be a flag bearer for one’s country is indeed a great honor for any athlete. The announcement of the person chosen for this duty is newsworthy in its own right as we have seen to be the case during the last couple of days for
USA, Canada, Israel, China, and several other nations. In fact, a list of announced flag bearers for many nations is already available at this link.

The obvious question at this point is “Who will get the distinct honor to be Ethiopia’s flag bearer in Beijing tonight?” One of the high officials for the Chinese team stated the following as criteria to be chosen for the honor of carrying the nation’s flag:

Only those athletes with high sport caliber, good sport ethics and good public image could be chosen to carry the nation's flag
In Ethiopia’s case, such criteria would seem to point to none other than Haile Gebrselassie. But will he be given this duty and honor? Will he seek it?

In the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Derartu Tulu graciously carried the Ethiopian flag during the Opening Ceremony. However, I was disappointed four years ago to see that an unknown person (not even sure if he was Ethiopian or an athlete) carried the Ethiopian flag in Athens. How about today in Beijing?

All but one of Ethiopian athletes selected for Beijing Olympics will be participating in track and field events, which will not start until one week later. The team has already announced that its arrival in Beijing will be delayed in order to avoid the extreme weather and maximize performance- a questionable and worrying strategy by itself, but a digression from the topic at hand. How will this delayed arrival impact Ethiopia’s presence in the Opening Ceremony? We shall see in short order.

One final comment on the topic of flag and Olympics: when thinking about these two subjects, particularly in the same context, one can not help but think of the jailed

Ethiopian superstar Teddy Afro, who sang passionately about Ethiopia’s Olympic athletes and the Ethiopian flag they proudly carried. Teddy’s hit song Anbessa and the accompanying video, which he produced in an overnight session after Ethiopia’s success at the Athens Olympics in 2004, is replete with references to the flag: entrusted with the flag, covenant with the flag, raising the flag, wearing the flag, holding the flag, and the luck of the flag.

Life is such in Ethiopia that Teddy Afro, who captured with his song the joy and pride of millions of Ethiopians four years ago, now sits in jail alone
charged with homicide, which he denies committing. To many people including myself, Teddy’s jailing appears more of a political vendetta rather than a criminal trial. It will be fitting if the athletes in Beijing can find a way to show solidarity with Teddy as he surely did with them four years ago.

How lucky will our flag be today?

----------------------------------------
UPDATE: Miruts Yifter was the Ethiopian flag bearer. Not to discount the legendary achievement of "Yifter the Shifter" but this was one of the most bone-headed move the Ethiopian Olympic Committee could make! When the whole world was watching, Ethiopia decided to be one of only three nations (out of 205) NOT to have the flag carried by a competing athlete. The other two nations: Djibouti and Marshall Islands!! Team Ethiopia stumbling out of the gate...
http://2008.sina.com.cn/en/news/2008-08-08/20246171.html

11 comments:

roocha said...

Miruts Yifter was the Ethiopian flag bearer. Not to discount the legendary achievement of "Yifter the Shifter" but this was one of the most bone-headed move the Ethiopian Olympic Committee could make! When the whole world was watching, Ethiopia decided to be one of only three nations (out of 205) NOT to have the flag carried by a competing athlete. The other two nations: Djibouti and Marshall Islands!! Team Ethiopia stumbling out of the gate...
http://2008.sina.com.cn/en/news/2008-08-08/20246171.html

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