Insight into the controversial act during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics.
Holding the flag for your country in the opening ceremony of the Olympics is an honor that many athletes wish to be granted. With the honor, however, comes a swirl of instructions and protocol to follow. However, when Americans select an athlete to carry the flag, they will likely be asked to uphold a tradition that has taken place for more than 100 years.
As teams enter the venue for the Parade of Nations in the Opening Ceremony, most Olympic teams briefly lower their flag (as if bowing) as a sign of respect when marching past the host nation’s box where leaders generally sit. The United States does not dip their flag.
According to legend, at the 1908 Summer Games, shot putter Ralph Rose stated, “this flag dips for no earthly king.” While some athletes chose to dip or not dip the flag, the tradition flip-flopped for several more years until 1936 when both the Summer and Winter Olympic games were held in Germany, controlled at the time under Adolph Hitler and Nazis rule. There was talk of a United States boycott, but athletes did participate in events and did not lower the flag in the ceremony.
While how the tradition began remains just that – a legend – after the 1936 Olympics, the tradition is codified for the United States Olympic Committee and the flag has not been dipped since then. Controversy continues today about the tradition of not dipping the flag during the ceremony. The Flag Code guidelines prohibit dipping, but that pertains mostly to the military, not civilians. Members of the U.S. Olympic movement and International Olympic Committee tried to settle the issue by devising alternative flag options, but failed in finding a solution.
The obvious choice for the honor to carry the flag at this year’s Summer Olympics for the United States would be 14-time gold medal winner Michael Phelps – but the honor is rarely given to the obvious choice. This year’s flag bearer will be selected from a group of 530 athletes – and the athletes choose themselves who will represent the United States. Captains from the 26 teams submit a nominee, which is followed by a secret vote, taking into account inspirational stories, length of service, performance and results.
Phelps has removed himself from consideration for the honor, due to his scheduled competition the following day. Popular choices that will be given serious consideration for the flag bearing honor is Los Angeles Lakers all-star guard Kobe Bryant, as well as five-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams. However, equestrian Karen O’Connor – the oldest athlete on the team – and world champion judoka Kayla Harrison are also speculated to be in the running to carry the American flag in the Opening Ceremony.
The 2012 Summer Olympics Open Ceremony in London will take place, Friday, July 27, 2012.