By Paul Jones
Hannah Mills has admitted to feeling “overwhelmed” by the honour of carrying the flag at Friday’s opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Wales’ Olympic champion and Mohamed Sbihi have been named as Team GB’s first joint flag bearers.
Mills becomes the first Welsh female athlete to be chosen for the honour in more than a century of modern Olympic history.
The pair will share the honour following a directive by the International Olympic Committee in March 2020 where each team could have a flagbearer to represent both genders.
Mills, 33, won sailing gold in 2016 in the women’s 470 class alongside Saskia Clark, and will defend the title in Tokyo with a new team-mate, Eilidh McIntyre.
Sbihi, who is the fourth rower to be named as a flagbearer, won gold in the men’s coxless fours in Rio and will compete in the men’s eight in the Japanese capital.
The British Olympic Association said Mills and Sbihi, who were chosen by a Team GB panel having been nominated by their respective sports, are athletes who “exemplify the Olympic values and uphold the Team GB values of pride, responsibility, respect and unity”.
Mills, who will become the first female sailor to carry the Union flag, said: “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.
Team GB Sailor Hannah Mills has told LBC she feels “totally blown away” after being chosen to carry the British flag with rower Mohamed Sbihi at the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony. pic.twitter.com/ISalVFOCBZ
— LBC (@LBC) July 22, 2021
“When [Chef de Mission] 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.”
Mills and Sbihi follow in the footsteps of Sir Andy Murray, who carried the flag at the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Sbihi hopes his selection as the first practising Muslim to carry the Union Jack at an Olympic Games opening ceremony will inspire Muslim children.
In 2012 the 33-year-old Sbihi became Britain’s first Muslim rower to compete at an Olympics, forgoing Ramadan via an approved charitable avenue that saw him donate 1,800 meals to poor families in Morocco.
Sbihi said: “It is an iconic moment within the Olympic Movement – people remember those images. I certainly remember the images of Andy (Murray) from Rio and even before I was a rower I remember seeing Sir Matt (Pinsent) and Sir Steve (Redgrave), so it is something I am incredibly proud of.
Hannah Mills and rower Mohamed Sbihi are to be the Team GB flag bearers at the Tokyo Olympics.
— BBC Sport Wales (@BBCSportWales) July 23, 2021
“To be the first person of Muslim faith to have this role is also a very proud moment. Hopefully this will help start the process of getting young Muslim kids involved in different kinds of sports, especially rowing.
“I have always maintained that I was just an average kid who got lucky and got selected to be a rower. And here I am 18 years later with the honour of being flag bearer.”
Sbihi, who was talent-spotted for his sport at the age of 15, has direct experience of the power of role models having had first-hand experience of the rise of Mo Farah, who trained at St Mary’s University in Twickenham where Sbihi studied for a sports scholarship.