Saturday, July 28, 2012

Who carries the flag tells something about your country

If you didn't stay up all night, that is if you are in India, you missed something. It was a lovely show. Olympic opening ceremonies have easily become the greatest show on earth. Beijing was awe inspiring in terms of sheer magnitude and scale. It was an almost impossible act to follow, but London did, in a very different way. You would have had to be a Brit or a complete Anglophile like me, to appreciate the nuances, but even otherwise, as a sheer spectacle it was magic.

This post is not about the ceremony, or the sport to follow. Its a lazy, and completely unscientific,  interpretation of national stereotypes from their choice of who would carry the country's flag in the parade !

Some nations simply go for glory - they give it to their most famous sportsman. Serbia gave it to Djokovic. Jamaica gave it to Usain Bolt. Veronica Campbell Brown, their senior sprinter amongst the women would have been a more logical choice, but who is more well known than Usain Bolt. Spain was led in by Pau Gasol, the NBA star.

Others gave it , not to their most successful athlete, but the one to whom their hearts went out. Australia let their women's basketball captain Lauren Jackson carry the flag. She'll never win gold , only because nobody can beat the US , but she has made Australia the second best team for so long and even in a country with so many gold medal winners, they let her lead them. The USA's choice was similar. Their logical choice would have been Kobe Bryant, their senior statesman in basketball and easily the most recognised and famous star. Or Michael Phelps, their most successful ever. Instead they gave it to Fencer Mariel Zagunis, who was voted in by their 500 strong team. So typical of that nation that they would elect their flag bearer . Both countries, sporting giants on whom success rests easily.

The individual class act was Switzerland. Roger Federer is easily the most well known Swiss athlete. He carried the flag in Beijing, but this time, he gave it to his doubles partner Stanislas Wawrinka. Trust Federer to do something as classy as that.

The award for boldnesss should go to Zimbabwe. Kristy Coventry, their champion swimmer, carried the flag and she is easily their most successful and best sportsperson. But she is in virtual exile in the US , and is opposed to Robert Mugabe, although he has embraced her as a national treasure. Here she was, carrying their flag.

India's was easy. Leander Paes should have been the obvious choice as this is his fifth Olympics, but the man has aged badly and nobody likes him anymore. Abhinav Bhindra, Gagan Narang, Saina Nehwal and Vijender Singh, other possible candidates are all competing on Saturday or Sunday and had to miss the ceremony. So it fell on Sushil Kumar, bronze medalist from Beijing to carry the tricolour.

But the most disappointing act was China's. They had a clutch of great sportsmen and women who deserved to lead them in. Lin Dan, perhaps the greatest badminton player of all time. Liu Xiang, the 110 metre hurdler who is China's favourite sportsman - but they are so paranoid about the guy winning, that they wouldn't even let him go to the loo unchaperoned. No way they would let him risk four hours standing around. What about Li Na, French Open Champion from 2011. Or Sun Yang, the champion distance swimmer. Instead their criteria was that the flag bearer had to be male, had to be tall and had to be handsome. Yuk ! Yi Jianlian, a second rate basketball player led them in, even though China has won nothing in basketball and will never win either. His sole redeeming feature is that he is some 7 ft tall ! Come on China; you are the greatest sporting nation on earth. Do you have to be that insecure ??

The Games have begun. Ahhhh.; two weeks of sheer bliss.

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