Australians across the globe celebrated the announcement that Cate Campbell and Patty Mills are the flag bearers for Australia at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics this week. Following the announcement Mills posed an important question, “What does it mean to everyone else?”
Despite being rhetorical in the moment it’s a question that lingers, and Mills elaborated listing those that he is proud to represent.
“I could probably try my hardest to describe what it means but the answer is what does it mean to everyone else?” Mills said.
“What does it mean to everyone else throughout Australia, the team, the thousands of ex-pats that live across the world, the next generation, the young ones that are coming through, the ones that have come before us, what does it mean to them?”
“Because at the end of the day that’s who I represent and to be able to make them proud about going about our business and trying to achieve our dreams is what it is really all about.”
Both Campbell and Mills are the face of the Australian Olympic team in Tokyo, much like Anna Meares in 2016 and Lauren Jackson in 2012, but they represent more than just that team in Tokyo. There’s a community that has helped them reach this point not only as athletes but as people.
Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Lauren Jackson believed the honour was more for the people that helped her get there from her family to her hometown.
“It’s the individual honours and achievements that I think are so special because you get to share them with your community at home,” Jackson said.
“I was representing Albury, I was representing the place I grew up, the people that watched me grow up and supported me my whole career, my family, my parents were just beside themselves and I think that joy and knowing they felt that sort of pride made it so special for me.
“The individual ones are more for the people that got me there and who I am and how I grew up.”
Growing up in Albury, Lauren Jackson was always a name on people’s lips come Olympics time and in 2012 Jackson and the words ‘Australia’s flag bearer’ were being floated weeks before it was first announced.
People in Albury were excited because this was someone people had a connection to beyond just being Australian.
During the years I played basketball at the stadium now named Lauren Jackson Sports Centre, young girls wanted to follow in the footsteps of the hometown hero. Jackson was someone we were told to look up to on the court or on the field because if Lauren could come from the local area then we could too, no matter the sport.
A generation back, people shared stories of their time playing junior and representative basketball with Jackson, attending school with her or even simply having met her once or twice whilst she was young. She was someone people once knew and now she was carrying the flag.
It was an early wake up for the London 2012 Opening ceremony, commencing at 6 am on July 28 but plenty woke up to see the hometown hero be the first Australian to walk out in the parade of nations.
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The same sentiment in different places across the country now rings true for both Mills and Campbell.
Campbell represents plenty of Australians that were born abroad but now call the country home, she represents Kenmore State High School, she represents the Commercial Swimming Club who has been with her since 2013 and most importantly she represents those in her personal life who she now gets to share the honour with.
On Wednesday night speaking to media, Campbell recognised that sacrifices and hard work from plenty of others came into her getting to lead out the Australian team alongside Mills.
“No athlete gets to where they are without an enormous support team behind them and I think this is such an incredible moment to be able to share with the people closest to you,” Campbell said.
“I, unfortunately, haven’t been able to tell many of them so I’m looking forward to checking my phone and giving them all a call and celebrating with them
“I’d just like to say that these Olympics wouldn’t happen without the sacrifice and incredible work of so many people.
“Not just within sport but within the AOC the IOC all the organising committees it has been an absolute team effort and to be able to stand up and carry the flag I want people to know I’m thinking of everybody who has made these games happen and they’ll be the people I’m thinking about when I walk out in that stadium.”
As the first Indigenous Australian to lead out the Australian contingent at the Olympics, 32-year-old Mills’ identity will always be an important part of the story.
A proud Kokatha, Naghiralgal and Dauareb-Meriam man, Mills acknowledged the connection he feels to this moment.
“As the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flag Bearer my connection between our country – the land, the sky, the sea, our culture, our history and this particular moment runs extremely deep,” Mills said.
In 2000 at the Sydney Olympics Cathy Freeman set the world on fire as she won Olympic Gold and became a role model for countless indigenous Australians, including a young Patty Mills.
Mills recognised the impact that Freeman had on him and that she alongside other indigenous role models helped him reach a point that he is now comfortable being that role model to others as well.
“I think just staying true to who you are. That was probably the biggest impact that Cathy had on me, is just being true to who you are and being proud of who you are and being passionate about your identity and let that really fuel the fire to achieve those dreams,” Mills said.
“Along with Cathy Freeman there were a lot of other indigenous role models that I looked up to in numerous sports and I think that all that packaged together has impacted me in a really good way that I’m in a position to be able to be that role model and be comfortable in that role model position to give back where I can.
“This is a very important position and a leadership position I feel comfortable in but such an honour and a privilege to lead this team alongside Cate which I also think is an incredible feeling to be able to do this together for the first time, really looking forward to that.”
Honour and privilege is something both Campbell and Mills stated they feel being named as Australia’s flag bearers, however, plenty of Australians feel a similar sentiment that these are the two who will lead the team and represent the country on one of the biggest stages in sport.
Campbell put it best when she wished that there were more words to describe this feeling because both are worthy of more than just those two words.
“I think honour and privilege have been thrown around a lot, I wish the English language had a few other words that were similar but could fully express just the real sentiment of emotion that I’m feeling right now.
“Honour and privilege will have to do in lieu of something else.”
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