Blair Tuke and Peter Burling named as NZ flagbearers for Rio Olympics

By David Leggat

Blair Tuke and Peter Burling. Photo / NZOC
Blair Tuke and Peter Burling. Photo / NZOC

Sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke will carry the New Zealand flag at the Olympic Games opening ceremony in Rio.

The London Olympic silver medal 49er sailors were named at a team function in Rio the night before the ceremony.

They were among a list of about five candidates in the pre-announcement speculation on who would get the honour.

Others regarded as being in the frame include fellow sailors, and defending Olympic 470 champions Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie, double Olympic eventing gold medallist Mark Todd - who also carried the flat at the 1992 Games in Barcelona - unbeatable coxless pair Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, world and Olympic champion kayaker Lisa Carrington and shot putter Valerie Adams.

Making of an Olympian: Peter Burling and Blair Tuke

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Burling and Tuke have been unbeaten since the 2012 Olympics in all major regattas until finishing third at the South American championships in Rio last month.

They will be hoping the loss, at that particular venue, won't be a bad omen after a stunning run of results since taking silver at the 2012 Olympics.

The last member of a New Zealand Olympic sailing team to carry the flag at the opening ceremony was three-time medallist boardsailor Barbara Kendall at Atlanta in 1996. She had won the gold medal at Barcelona in 1992.

It will be the first time in New Zealand Olympic history that two athletes will share the flag carrying duties.

Three-time Olympian Burling will technically be the official flagbearer. Effectively the honour has the pair named as co-captains of the New Zealand team in Rio.

"We are so incredibly proud to be leading the team together and to be honoured as a crew," said Burling.

"We would not have had the success we have had without each other and we know this is the case for many of us in the New Zealand Olympic team."

Tuke said he hoped their experience as a team would enable them to add value to others performances.

"We are just so proud and, by sharing our experiences gained as a team, we hope we can inspire incredible performances here in Rio."

New Zealand team chef de mission Rob Waddell acknowledged the joint appointment "is a step away from Olympic tradition but it acknowledges the importance of teamwork at the Olympic Games.

"Pete and Blair have delivered exceptional performances as a crew over the past four years and have epitomised the values and culture of the New Zealand Olympic team."

The job of choosing the flagbearer is the sole prerogative of the chef de mission and is a closely guarded secret in the leadup to each Games.

The pair will be in good company. The United States will be led into the Maracana stadium by champion swimmer Michael Phelps, while the British team will have tennis star Andy Murray at the head of their group.

The occasion was celebrated by about 150 New Zealand athletes and marked by a samba drumming group from Rio's Mangueira community.

The last six flagbearers for Olympic opening ceremonies were runner Nick Willis (2012), rower Mahe Drysdale (2008), discus thrower Beatrice Faumuina (2004), eventer Blyth Tait, Kendall (1996) and eventer Mark Todd (1992).

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