Flag bearer announcements have been trickling in from other nations for weeks now, but the United States always makes the decision later. That's what happens when your delegation features 555 athletes in almost every sport! They usually do a vote among the captains of each team in the Olympic Village a few days before the Opening Ceremony. I'm expecting that to happen once again, which means we'll find out the flag bearer on probably Tuesday or Wednesday (maybe even Thursday).
It's usually someone who has a great Olympic story that gets the honor of leading Team USA into the stadium. In 2012, it was Mariel Zagunis, who became the first American to win a gold medal in fencing in Athens, then repeated in Beijing. That was doubly significant because London marked the first time that women outnumbered men on the U.S. team (which has happened again this year). Meanwhile, the 2008 flag bearer was Lopez Lomong, who had only become an American citizen a year earlier after escaping the civil war in Sudan.
There are plenty of athletes who fit the bill for flag bearer duty in Rio. Some of the obvious candidates won't be able to do it, either. If you're thinking Michael Phelps, that's unlikely. Although, unlike his previous Olympic appearances, he won't be swimming on the first day of competition this year, so I guess he can't be ruled out entirely. I'd say another unlikely choice who can't be completely ruled out is Kerri Walsh Jennings. We all know the story there, of course. She's looking for her fourth straight gold medal, this time with new partner April Ross, and is a five-time Olympian after being on the indoor team in Sydney.
But I'm thinking it won't be either Phelps or Walsh Jennings. One of the great things about the U.S. selection process is that it's not always who you would immediately think. In fact, it's usually somebody who isn't from one of the high-profile sports. It's a chance for someone else to get the Olympic moment they deserve.
With that in mind, here are some names I think will receive some heavy consideration:
- Kim Rhode, Shooting: I don't think Kim Rhode gets anywhere near enough credit for what she's done in her Olympic career. This is her sixth Olympics. She's medaled at each of the previous five. Rhode isn't just the first American to win an individual Olympic medal at five consecutive games, she'll also be the first (and one of a handful ever) to compete in an Olympics on five different continents,
- Gwen Jorgensen, Triathlon: After being held on the opening weekend in London, they've moved the triathlon to later in the Games, which means Gwen Jorgensen will have the opportunity to march in the Opening Ceremony this time. She a two-time World Champion and now a two-time Olympian.
- Reid Priddy, Volleyball: Most people don't realize this, but the U.S. men's volleyball team is actually one of the best in the world. The 39-year-old Priddy has been on the team for 12 years, and this is his fourth Olympics. He was on the gold medal-winning squad (that beat Brazil in the final) in 2008.
- Tony Azevedo, Water Polo: Tony Azevedo is the captain of the men's water polo team, so he'll be one of the people voting, which may take him out of the running. Which it shouldn't. Because he isn't just a five-time Olympian. He's a five-time Olympian that was born in Rio.
- Kristin Armstrong, Cycling: Another one that's probably unlikely because she'll be competing on the opening weekend of the Games. Kristin Armstrong won gold in Beijing, retired, came back in 2011, and defended her gold medal in London, only to retire again. Well, she's once again un-retired, and looking for her third straight Olympic title in the time trial.
- Kanak Jha, Table Tennis: Unlike the others I've mentioned here, Jha is a first-time Olympian. So why does he deserve the honor? He's only 16. The first U.S. Olympian born in the 21st century. Other countries do the youngest on the team thing, which the U.S. usually doesn't. But that would be a cool reason to pick him.
- David Boudia, Diving: Remember when the USA was just as dominant in diving as China? Yeah, I don't either. In fact, Boudia's gold on the platform in London was the first for an American in 12 years. He also won a bronze in synchro platform four years ago. Boudia came out of retirement for Rio, mainly because he wants to share the Olympic experience with his wife and newborn baby.
- Jordan Burroughs, Wrestling: Wrestling has been through a lot of crap in the last four years. Voted out of the Olympics, then voted right back in. Jordan Burroughs was dominating the sport the entire time. He's the defending Olympic champion in his weight class, and he's also won two World Championships and a Pan Am Games gold medal since London.
- Kayla Harrison, Judo: She won America's first-ever judo gold medal in London, but that's only half the story. After the win, she revealed that she had been sexually abused by her coach, which caused her to move away from home. She overcame that to become an Olympic champion, and goes for another title in Brazil.
- Steven Lopez, Taekwondo: Ever since taekwondo was added to the Olympic program in 2000, the Lopez family has been synonymous with the sport in the United States. And Steven Lopez is the most decorated member of that family. This is his fifth appearance. He won gold at the first two, bronze in Beijing, and lost in the first round in London on a broken leg. This might be the final Olympic go-round for the 37-year-old, who was born in Nicaragua.