Yao Ming to carry China flag at Olympics
China's a shoo-in to lead all nations in at least one category at the Athens Olympics — tallest flag-bearer.
Yao Ming, the 7-foot-6 NBA star, will carry the flag during Friday's opening ceremony, leading the Chinese delegation of 407 athletes and 230 coaches and officials.
The Houston Rockets' center was selected because of his character, Chinese officials said.
"He is a man of integrity and has a good sense of humor," delegation official Xiao Tian told the Xinhua News Agency. "He is the perfect one to be the flag-bearer."
Basketball players have traditionally been favored to carry the flag for the Chinese delegation at past Olympic Games. Former Chinese captain Liu Yudong assumed the job in Atlanta and Sydney.
But the choice of Yao didn't come easily as some of his detractors argued that Yao's conspicuous height - even by the standard of basketball players - might be an eyesore instead of a pleasant picture at the opening ceremony.
Meanwhile, the Chinese delegation to the Games held a flag-raising ceremony Monday in the Olympic village.
The ceremony started with a traditional Greek dance accompanied by bagpipes.
Inannis Manos, manager of the village, then announced the raising of the flag.
"It's so thrilling to see the flag of my nation raised here because it means another Olympic campaign has started," said Le Maosheng, Chinese weightlifting world champion.
"I feel filled with power and I think that I am now ready for the Games."
"I felt the greatest honour to attend this ceremony because China is a big country and Beijing will be the next Olympic city," said Iraklis Grous, a Greek volunteer who raised the Chinese flag.
"I am a little bit scared because I know how important it is," said the 20-year-old who returned from the United States where he studies.
China is sending a 633-member delegation to the games including 407 athletes, the biggest in history. It is going for at least 20 gold medals, trying to keep its third place on the medals table.
China finished third in the medal standings behind the United States and Russia at the 2000 Sydney Games, and historically is strong in table tennis, badminton, diving and men's gymnastics.
"Now everything is fine with the delegation and we have had a good reception here," said COC Vice-President He Huixian.
"There will many difficulties ahead, but we are confident that we will fulfill our goal."
The Games will start on August 13. A record figure of 11,000 athletes and 5,500 team officials from 202 national Olympic committees are participating in the games, alongside more than 45,000 volunteers and 21,500 media representatives.