July 30, 2012
University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will
regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and
intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related
content, will be available on his page, mgoblue.com/brandon, and he is also on Twitter at
London Olympics Site | U-M Olympics Coverage | Michigan at the Olympics
In 1908, London hosted the Summer Olympics, and University of
Michigan track and field star Ralph Rose was the first-ever flag
bearer for the United States. This past Friday night, London looked on
as another U-M track and field athlete carried his country's flag at
the opening ceremony.
Nick Willis, the silver medal winner in the men's 1,500-meter run
four years ago in Beijing, received the honor from his teammates when
they voted him as New Zealand's captain and flag bearer the same day
as the ceremony.
To be the Olympic flag bearer for one's country is an honor few
will ever know. Willis was one of the first athletes to be named to
New Zealand's 2012 Olympic team by its organizing committee. The
coaches and teammates believe in Willis as a leader. They know he has
a reverence for his country and his sport.
You could see why they chose him when he carried the flag. There
was strength in his step and pride on his face as he marched through
the Olympic Stadium in front of world leaders and an international
television audience. Willis was a perfect fit for the honor.
For U-M, it was also a proud moment. As Willis carried the colors
of New Zealand, you could think of his years at Michigan as a record
holder and Michigan letterwinner (2003-05). He was a five-time
All-American, a six-time Big Ten champion and two-time NCAA champion.
He was (and is) considered an Ann Arborite.
Nick Willis meeting the Queen.
That is what made this honor even much more special. He has been
living away from his native New Zealand. He has been competing on the
world track circuit, and yet his teammates knew what it means for
Willis to be a Kiwi. His representation of his country has been
And again for U-M, his representation of our university has been
One century ago, Rose was also a team leader. He loved Michigan,
his country and his heritage. However, it was a different time.
The United States and Great Britain were not the allies we are
today. The U.S. previously had been at war with Britain and there was
no love lost between the two countries. Rose, an Irish-American, had
even a deeper resentment toward the British.
In those opening ceremonies, the representatives of all countries
were asked to dip their flags as they passed in front of King Edward
To make matters worse, the English either forgot or did not fly the
flags of Sweden and the United States atop the stadium. The Swedes
boycotted the opening ceremony, and Rose did what he believed he
needed to do.
Instead of dipping the flag, he walked with the Stars and Stripes
straight up, snubbing the organizers and, more so, the King of
Rose supposedly said, "This flag dips for no earthly king."
The precedent was set, and to this day the United States does not
lower its flag to any of head of state.
Now we have another U-M athlete who has represented his country in
a manner so different yet still with the same values -- a reverence
for his country, his heritage and sport.
Watching Willis carry the New Zealand flag and thinking about
Rose's legacy should have given all of the University of Michigan
students, alumni, staff and supporters an opportunity to see U-M as
"Leaders and Best' on an international stage in a truly wonderful
Go Blue and Go USA! Good luck at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
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