Nick Willis named NZ's London Olympics flagbearer
JONATHAN MILLMOW IN LONDON
Nick Willis will walk the Olympic Stadium track in London before he runs it after this morning being named New Zealand's flagbearer for the opening ceremony.
A silver medallist in the 1500m in Beijing four years, Willis was a popular choice for the role and speculation he could be handed the honour heightened last week when he tweeted he was off to buy some news shoes for the opening ceremony.
With rower Mahe Drysdale and shot put champion Valerie Adams both ruling themselves out, Willis headed off the likes of veteran equestrian rider Mark Todd, triathlete Bevan Docherty and perhaps footballer Ryan Nelsen for the role.
Willis will lead a New Zealand party of 60 into London's Olympic Stadium tomorrow morning (NZ time), comprising 39 athletes and 21 officials. The number is low because a large proportion of the 184-strong team are competing on the opening two days, and other later starters aren't arriving in the athletes' village until closer to week two.
Unlike four years ago when Drysdale had to row the morning after the opening ceremony, Willis has the first week off before hitting the track for the heats of the 1500m.
The 29 year-old Wellington-born United States based runner said he was thrilled to be handed the honour by the New Zealand Olympic team's chef de mission Dave Currie.
Willis said the decision was ''more than I could ever have dreamed''.
''I just can't wait for this great opportunity.''
Willis said when he first competed in Athens at the age of 21 ''I was very young and very selfish''.
But he said this morning he was no longer an ''individual-minded athlete'' and this was a chance for him to pass his lessons on ''to the younger and senior members of the team''.
"What an amazing honour it is to be named as flag bearer for New Zealand," he said. "My heroes Peter Snell and John Walker each carried the flag, so to walk where they, and many other New Zealand legends have, is more than I could have ever dreamed of.
"I will use this opportunity to offer support to my fellow 2012 Kiwi Olympians, and hopefully inspire them through my own performances at the Games."
Willis was presented with the New Zealand Olympic team's cloak yesterday afternoon in a ceremony at the Olympic village in London. Later in the evening he was honoured at a black tie gala dinner hosted by the Governor General of New Zealand, Lieutenant General, the Right Honourable Sir Jerry Mateparae.
Currie said he chose Willis because he covered all the qualities he looked for in a team leader. They include previous Olympic experience, ability to honour and inspire team-mates and medal potential in these games.
Just last week, Willis showed himself to be in medal contention when he clocked 3m 30.35s for third at the Diamond League meeting in the Mediterranean principality, his final outing before the London Olympics.
Willis took 1.44s off the mark he set at the same meeting last year. It was an Oceania record, beating Australian Ryan Gregson's 3m 31.06s at this meet two years ago.
The race was won by Beijing Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop (Kenya) in 3m 28.88s - the world's fastest time this year.
"The role of flag bearer is to both lead and inspire the Olympic team," Currie said.
"Nick's results speak for themselves and his silver medal run in Beijing was a great moment in New Zealand sporting history. His drive and focus are complimented by quiet modesty, humour and generosity."
- © Fairfax NZ News