Can’t underestimate Great Britain after Beijing and London Games, says Australia’s flag bearer Anna Meares

Anna Meares will defend her track sprint title at her fourth Olympics.

By: Reuters | Melbourne | Published: July 6, 2016 12:56 pm
Australia's bronze medallists Kaarle McCulloch (R) and Anna Meares stand on the podium during the victory ceremony after the track cycling women's team sprint finals at the Velodrome during the London 2012 Olympic Games *** Local Caption *** "Australia's bronze medallists Kaarle McCulloch (R) and Anna Meares stand on the podium during the victory ceremony after the track cycling women's team sprint finals at the Velodrome during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 2, 2012. REUTERS" Anna Meares won a time trial gold in her Games debut in Athens in 2004. (Source: Reuters)

Double Olympic champion cyclist Anna Meares will carry Australia’s flag in the opening ceremony at the Rio de Janeiro Games next month.

The 32-year-old will defend her track sprint title at her fourth Olympics and also compete in the keirin and team sprint events.

“I’m incredibly proud, I’m incredibly humbled,” she said at a ceremony in Melbourne’s Fed Square on Wednesday. “I don’t think it changes anything that I’m going to do (at Rio).”

Meares, one of Australia’s greatest Olympic cyclists, won a time trial gold in her Games debut in Athens in 2004 and a silver in the individual sprint in Beijing four years later.

In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, the 11-times world champion said she relished the chance to battle against a new generation of riders and expected to be in peak fitness when she rolls into the Rio velodrome next month.

Double Olympic cycling champion Anna Meares will carry Australia’s flag at the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Games next month.

The 32-year-old, who will defend her track sprint title at her fourth Games, edged out other candidates including twice Olympic race walking champion Jared Tallent and 37-year-old hockey stalwart Jamie Dwyer for the honour.

Breaking from a tradition of naming the flagbearer in the days before the opening ceremony, Australian chef de mission Kitty Chiller presented Meares with the flag at a ceremony at Melbourne’s Federation Square on Wednesday.

“To be announced here in Australia, it gives me time … to come back to a stable position rather than a blubbering mess … which is lovely,” the 11-times world champion told reporters.

“Don’t drop the flag! That is definitely goal number one.”

Meares, one of Australia’s greatest Olympic cyclists, won a time trial gold in her Games debut in Athens in 2004 and took a courageous silver in the individual sprint in Beijing seven months after suffering a broken neck in a crash during competition.

She will lead a strong Australian team into the Rio velodrome, where she will also compete in the keirin and the team sprint.

Australia have a proud history in Olympic track cycling but came away from London with only Meares’ title as hosts Britain bagged seven of the 10 golds.

FAMILIAR FACES

While British cycling has been in crisis this year with the resignation of Australian technical director Shane Sutton in April over allegations of bullying, sexism and discrimination, their star-laden team could not be discounted, Meares said.

“You can’t underestimate Team Great Britain and they’ve shown that at both Beijing and London,” she told Reuters.
Australia boast a number of Olympic medallists and former world champions, and Meares held high hopes the team would emerge from Rio with a bigger haul than London.

“There are a lot of familiar faces from London and a big contingent of first-timers, so we’ve got a good combination of experience and energy,” she added.

“I’m really excited about the potential of this team right across the board.

“It’s not going to be an easy task at all but I’ve seen the work, dedication and excitement in the improvement that everyone has made. That doesn’t give any guarantees but I think we are better placed for Rio than what we were for London.”

Meares won a bronze in the team sprint with Kaarle McCulloch at London but in Rio will work with Stephanie Morton, who grabbed a time-trial gold at the 2012 Paralympics as the able-bodied pilot for winner Felicity Johnson.

Meares said 25-year-old Morton would also be a threat to her individual sprint title defence along with German Kristina Vogel and the top Chinese sprinters, who include world champion Zhong Tianshi.

“She’s a phenomenal person, great energy,” she said of Morton. “I really feel like with the big diesel engine that she is, my job is just to get her up to speed and going.”

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