Badminton star Nathan Robertson said today he was “happy and humbled” to have been voted by his fellow athletes to carry the flag for England in the Opening Ceremony at the Commownealth Games in Delhi on Sunday.
Robertson, a world champion and Olympic silver medallist, won the honour in what Chef de Mission Craig Hunter described as “an extremely tight vote” ahead of five other nominated athletes.
“Only one person gets this honour every four years and to get a chance to do it this time is something special,” said Robertson, who was in his bed at the Athletes’ Village when he learned the news from Badminton team manager Andy Wood at 11pm last night.
“Multi-sports events are special,” he said. “To actually walk in front of the the team carrying the flag – I can’t imagine what that’s going to feel like.
“It’s a huge honour; something you dream about. To get the opportunity is so rare. I’m slightly humbled right now, but I know it will be one of the highlights of my career to walk out ahead of the team.”
Robertson’s career includes a number of other significant highlights, not least the Olympic mixed doubles silver he won with Gail Emms in Athens six years ago, and the world title they took in 2006, while the Nottingham-born 33-year-old also has seven Commonwealth medals to his name from three Games.
In Delhi he will defend the mixed doubles title he and Emms won in Melbourne with new partner Jenny Wallwork who described Robertson’s flag-bearing honour as “absolutely fantastic”.
“He only told me an hour before it was announced,” said the 23-year-old from Bolton. “He said: ‘You have to keep it quiet. No one else knows.’
“He’s so laid back you very rarely see him looking excited like that. I’m really proud of him. It’s a fantastic achievement to be nominated but to be the actual flag bearer is a real honour.”
The pair begin their mixed doubles campaign on Saturday 9 October but both will be involved in the mixed team competition which gets underway on day one – Monday 4 October.
“We’re feeling confident,” said Wallwork, who became Robertson’s playing partner nearly two years ago. “Over the last year we’ve really gelled as a pair.
“There are four very good teams of a similar standard. I just hope we can play our best and bring back a medal. We are definitely playing well.”
Wallwork named pairs from India, Singapore and Malaysia as the England hopefuls’ main rivals.
“They will all be strong,” she said. “But there’s no-one we are hoping to avoid when the draw comes out. We’ve got to beat everyone to win. All we can ask is we play our best.”
Wallwork is making her Games debut in Delhi, but she is far from inexperienced having first played for England juniors aged 12. She started playing the sport at seven and was brought up in what you might call ‘a badminton family’ – her mother, Jill, also played for England, while her father, Brian, is currently defending his world veterans title while she is in India.
As for Robertson, his parents – June and John – had not not planned to travel to Delhi either, due to security fears. But Robertson is now hoping to fly them out to see him carry the flag.
“They’ve been to the last three Olympics and Commonwealth Games and were really disappointed not to be coming,” he said.
“Obviously, they’re quite proud and would love to come even more now, but it may be a bit late to get the visas.”