LONDON -- Australia will be the 11th nation to step onto the track at Olympic Stadium here in London Friday evening for the Opening Ceremonies of the XXXth Olympiad. When they do, Lauren Jackson will be at the head of the delegation, proudly carrying her nation's flag. The selection to carry the nation's flag in the Parade of Athletes is widely considered to be one of the highest honors an athlete can achieve.
"(Friday) night - even tonight -- what has just happened has been the proudest moment of my life. To be named leader of that team. To be able to walk in front of Australia in an Olympic Games was something I never felt I would be able to achieve. Obviously a gold medal would be awesome," said Jackson of the honor.
"My parents won't believe it," added the daughter of two Australian National Team basketball players. "They are just going to be overwhelmed with joy and cry like a lot of people in my family.''
Though Jackson, a three-time Olympic silver medalist now in the hunt to turn silver into gold in her fourth appearance in the quadrennial games, was told privately of her selection two days ago by Nick Green, the Chef de Mission of the Australian Olympic Team, the Australian delegation did its best to keep the matter a secret until its formal public announcement Thursday. But that didn't stop a flurry of betting in the London punters' shops, where gambling on nearly anything is possible. Jackson opened at relatively long 31:1 odds, which diminished to 4.50:1 earlier this week as word apparently leaked out, before plunging to just 1.50:1 by yesterday, when the betting was closed.
"I kept that secret pretty well,'' Jackson said of the dive in the odds. "Obviously something happened overnight.''
Still, speculation about who let the cat out of the bag did not diminish the thunderous ovation Jackson received at a special ceremony held at the Westfield Mall just outside the Olympic Park, not only from her Opals' basketball teammates, but also from the delegation at large, who all received a vote in the selection.
Jackson will be one of several basketball players bearing their nations' flags at tonight's ceremonies. Pau Gasol will carry the flag of Spain and since 1984, it has been a Chinese tradition for the honor to be bestowed on a member of the men's basketball team, and this year will be no different. China tapped former NBA player Yi Jianlian for the honor.
Jackson will be the second Australian basketballer to carry the nation's flag in the Parade of Athletes, following in the footsteps of Boomers legend Andrew Gaze, who had the honor for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
Jackson, 31 and the captain of the Opals' squad, is also just the second female basketball player from any nation to carry her nation's flag at the Olympics, the first being three-time gold-medalist Dawn Staley, who was honored by her U.S. teammates with the selection at the 2004 Athens Games, Staley's last Olympics.
“I congratulate the Australian Olympic Committee on their selection of Lauren as the flag bearer for London, not just because she is one of our own basketballers, but because she embodies what is great about Australia and the Olympic ideal,” said Basketball Australia's Scott Derwin. “She strives for excellence every single day and has achieved success at every level. Lauren is the ultimate competitor who won’t back down from any challenge. I think she is the perfect choice to carry the flag.”
“Lauren will be the ideal representative for all Australians in London, including the over one million people around the country who play basketball,” said Basketball Australia's Kristina Keneally. “She is an outstanding athlete, an exceptional leader and a terrific role model who has inspired so many young Australians with her amazing performances.