In a fitting choice for the athlete's last Olympics, Michael Phelps will serve as the Rio Olympic flag bearer for Team USA at the Games' opening ceremony on Friday. “I'm honored to be chosen, proud to represent the U.S., and humbled by the significance of carrying the flag and all it stands for,” Phelps said in response to the news. "I want to walk in the Opening Ceremony, take it all in, represent America in the best possible way and make my family proud. This time around, it's about so much more than medals."
Phelps was selected for the duty by a vote among his fellow Team U.S.A. members. In recent years, fencer Mariel Zagunis carried the flag in 2012, and runner Lopez Lomong had the duty in 2008. Lomong, a former Sudanese child soldier who immigrated to the United States in 2000, had a special reverence for the opportunity. "It's a great honor for me that my teammates chose to vote for me. I'm here as an ambassador of my country, and I will do everything I can to represent my country well," said Lomong.
As part of his opening ceremony uniform, Phelps will have a very special jacket made by Olympic designer Ralph Lauren. All athletes' jackets will have an Olympic patch on the front and the letters "USA" on the back, but Phelps' coat will have a special modification. An inlaid battery pack will light up the patch and the letters as Phelps leads the U.S. delegation into Maracaña Stadium — the definition of glow-up.
The special honor is one last Olympic bucket list item for Phelps, who has already made Olympic history several times over. On top of being the most decorated Olympian of all time, he's also the first U.S. male swimmer to qualify for five Olympic Games. He's aiming to increase his medal count in Rio, where he'll compete in three individual events: the 100 meter and 200 meter butterfly, and the 200 meter individual medley. However, the honor of bearing the US flag, which is bestowed upon so few Olympians, might mean even more to Phelps than breaking his own record.
The Opening Ceremony promises to be one of the highlights of the Games, and seeing one of the most famous athletes of all time lead the American delegation will be an incredible way to start off the Games as a viewer. Phelps is a beloved American icon, and it is an honor for the United States as well to have such an historic athlete represent the country as its Olympic leader.