Nick Willis adds to Kiwi flagbearer speculation

JONATHAN MILLMOW IN LONDON
Last updated 20:00 26/07/2012
Olympic Flag Bearers

Olympic Flag Bearers

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Has Beijing 1500m silver medallist Nick Willis been out buying shoes?

He tweeted he had on July 15, adding to speculation that he might be given the flagbearer's duties when the New Zealand team marches into the London Stadium during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games on Saturday morning (NZ time).

However, Kiwi chef de mission Dave Currie, who decides the honour, also tweeted that a lot of athletes had been out buying new shoes for the ceremony.

The closely-guarded identity of the New Zealand flagbearer will be revealed on Friday morning with Willis and Mark Todd the leading contenders.

A black-tie dinner is being held in London where who will gain the honour is revealed.

While the equestrian team is missing the ceremony because the eventing competition starts the following day, Todd previously said he would attend if given the honour of being flagbearer for a second time.

Big names Valerie Adams and Mahe Drysdale ruled themselves out; Adams because she does not arrive in London to defend her shot put title until the second week of the Games and Drysdale because he is rowing the morning after the ceremony.

Whoever gains the honour will be leading just 39 athletes - one-fifth of the team - will march in the Olympic opening ceremony.

But New Zealand chef de mission Dave Currie insists that is a "very good number" given 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.

"I'm really pleased with the high number of athletes who have chosen to march," Currie said.

Proportionally it's a small turnout, compared with the likes of Great Britain and Australia. Less than half of Great Britain's 542-strong team are expected to march, while conservative estimates have 220 of Australia's 410 athletes doing the traditional lap of the track.

New Zealand's contingent, wearing their 1948-inspired black blazers with white trim, will number 60, including 21 team officials. It's notably fewer than the 90 to 100 athletes and officials who marched in Beijing four years ago because of the new restrictions imposed by organising committee LOCOG, which stipulate just one official per sport is permitted to march.

The men's hockey team, whose Games campaign doesn't start until Monday night (NZT) against South Korea, will make up the bulk of the Kiwi athletes marching. Five or six of the sailing team are expected to travel up from their Weymouth base for the ceremony, while a handful of swimmers who aren't competing on the first two days will also march.

Other sports represented will be athletics, triathlon, canoe slalom, shooting, taekwondo, weightlifting and judo.

Sports bypassing the opening ceremony include rowing, cycling, equestrian, men's and women's football, women's hockey (whose opener is on Sunday night against Australia) and tennis player Marina Erakovic who is scheduled to start her tournament on Sunday. 

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The drawn-out nature of the opening ceremony which requires several hours of standing, in warm weather, is hardly seen as ideal preparation for the athletes' main reason for being in London.

The ceremony is expected to run for four hours, with athletes and officials assembling at the athletes' village then making the short walk to the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium where director Danny Boyle's NZ$53.1m extravaganza awaits.

Beijing 1500m silver medallist Nick Willis confirmed he would march, and fuelled speculation he might be given the flagbearer's duties when he tweeted he was buying new shoes for the occasion.

- Fairfax Media

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