Rio 2016: Great Britain to have first openly gay flagbearer at opening ceremony

Equestrian rider Lee Pearson of Great Britain poses for a photo on the beach after being chosen as Great Britain's flagbearer for the Paralympic Games. Photo / Getty Images
Equestrian rider Lee Pearson of Great Britain poses for a photo on the beach after being chosen as Great Britain's flagbearer for the Paralympic Games. Photo / Getty Images

Lee Pearson, the equestrian rider who has won 10 gold medals, will be the first openly gay person to carry the flag for Great Britain at an opening ceremony of an Olympic or Paralympic Games on Wednesday night in Rio de Janeiro.

The paralympic legend competes at his fifth Games, having won three gold medals on his debut at Sydney 2000.

"I think that's why I'm so proud of my fellow athletes. To vote a gay bloke to be in that position to lead them out through that tunnel and out into the Paralympic Games is an amazing honour.

"What an amazing nation we have - we've got so many diverse characters, different religions and races."

Pearson was nominated for the honour in a vote by his fellow 264 athletes from the 19 sports that make up the ParampicsGB team.

"I think that's why I'm so proud of my fellow athletes. To vote a gay bloke to be in that position to lead them out through that tunnel and out into the Paralympic Games is an amazing honour. "What an amazing nation we have - we've got so many diverse characters, different religions and races."

Pearson, 42, added: "Even if I died yesterday, to have done what I've done in my life is surreal. To be voted in this position, means we've moved on even further when people don't give it any thought. I don't want them to think 'oh, he's a gay bloke, let's give him a chance'. I want them to think 'he's a nice bloke, who has done what he's done for the country in previous Games'."

Pearson admitted he was almost oblivious to the voting process having been busy preparing his horse since arriving on Saturday. "The news was broken by my performance manager. I've been so focused on getting the horse here. I did see the nomination that you could do and I thought it would be rude to nominate yourself, so I just deleted the email. And I literally never gave it any more thought. I thought that's nice to be nominated, but I never dreamed that the athletes would vote for me to put me in this position."

"I was half hoping to come to Rio slightly quietly as the underdog. I won the World Equestrian Games in 2014 and beat a French gentleman that beat me in London....All of a sudden it was like da-da, you're on the world stage again. Nobody ever would decline this opportunity. It genuinely is a privilege."

Four time Olympian Kate Richardson-Walsh, who is married to hockey team-mate Helen, became the first openly gay athlete to carry the British flag at an Olympic or Paralympic ceremony when she did so at the closing of the Games in the Maracana - where tonight's event will also be held - two weeks ago.

Great Britain has a target of 121 medals at the Rio Paralympics, having finished third in the medals table in London four years ago with 120 medals, 34 gold, behind tables-toppers China, and second-placed Russia, none of whose athletes will take part in the 11-day sporting festival.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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