Brandon's Blog: An Honor Reserved for Few
Nick Willis

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,, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.

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 impeccable.

And again for U-M, his representation of our university has been outstanding.

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 VII.

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 England.

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 moment.

Go Blue and Go USA! Good luck at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

Dave Brandon Home Page