Basketball star Yao Ming of China, left, judoka Jang Sung-ho, center, and tennis world No. 1 Roger Federer of Switzerland will tote their countries’ flags during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on Aug. 8.
/ Korea Times File
By Kang Seung-woo
In addition to taking the top place on the podium at the Beijing Olympics, there is another spot coveted by world-famous Olympians, such as NBA star Yao Ming of China and tennis standout Maria Sharapova of Russia.
That position is carrying the flag for their countries during the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics.
With a week remaining before the Games begin, many participating countires have named celebrated athletes as the representatives who will carry their colors into China's National Stadium, nicknamed the "Bird's Nest."
Swiss tennis star Roger Federer will carry his nation's red and white flag around the stadium. Federer, who has remained No. 1 in the world rankings since February 2004, was also a flag bearer at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
Like Federer, Yao, a center for the Houston Rockets in the NBA, will repeat as a carrier after holding China's flag in the 2004 Games. Before the Olympics, the 2.31-meter giant expressed his hope of being the host country's delegate.
South Korean judoka Jang Sung-ho, an Athens Olympic silver medallist, will guide the 389-member South Korean contingent during the ceremony.
Greece's Ilias Iliadis, who won a judo gold medal in the 81-kilogram division four years ago at the age of 17, will be honored as the first athlete among participants from 205 nations to enter the stadium because of a regulation by the International Olympics Committee (IOC) that Greece, the birth place of the Summer Olympics, marches first.
However, Sharapova made the case that fame did not secure a spot as a flag carrier. The third-ranked Russian offered her service to carry the flag, but was turned down by Russia's tennis chief, Shamil Tarpishchev, who wanted her to save energy for the tennis tournament.
Instead, basketball star Andrei Kirilenko of the NBA's Utah Jazz will carry the Russian flag.
Australian swimming icon Grant Hackett, considered the biggest threat to South Korea's Park Tae-hwan in the 400-meter freestyle race, turned down an offer to carry the flag to focus on his goal of winning a gold medal in the 1,500-meter freestyle at three straight Games.
Notable bearers from other nations include another NBA star, Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs, who will lead Argentina, and paddlers Ai Fukuhara of Japan and Li Jia Wei of Singapore.