After carrying the Belgian flag in the PyeongChang 2018 Opening Ceremony, snowboarder Seppe Smits gives us the lowdown on this incredible experience

I didn’t go to the Opening Ceremony at my first Games, four years ago in Sochi, as we were staying too far from the stadium and my event started early the next day.

So when the Belgian Olympic Committee asked me if I was up to the task of carrying our flag in PyeongChang, I just said, “Hell yeah, for sure!”

This is probably Belgium’s biggest delegation at the Winter Games for the last 50 years, so it was a special feeling to be chosen out of all those athletes to be the flagbearer. It is nice to get the recognition for the career that I’ve had, but most importantly it is just an amazing opportunity.

Only one person gets to do it every four years, so it’s definitely a big honour. Some of my friends didn’t even realise how special it is when I told them. They were like, “Oh yeah, that’s cool, you get to carry the flag.” Then I told them that only one person gets chosen to do it every four years and they were like, “Wow, that’s pretty damn special.”

Obviously coming to the Olympic Games in itself is an incredible feeling, but then to get that recognition makes it even more amazing. It’s part of what makes the Games so unique. The competition isn’t the most special thing; it’s the whole vibe – meeting athletes from other countries and other cultures who each have their own passions for different sports. It’s a magical experience, being in that atmosphere in the Olympic Village. And then the Opening Ceremony brings us all together – all the best athletes in the world – to walk through the stadium and everyone is cheering for us. It’s an experience you can never forget; it gives you butterflies in your stomach.

It is definitely a different feeling from being nervous for a competition; I was just full of happiness and excitement.

The best feeling was just before we walked into the stadium. We were waiting there at the entrance and I could see the crowd, see the team in front start their walk and wave their flags, and then I looked behind me and saw all of our team there; it was a special feeling for sure.

I had no idea how big the flag itself was going to be, so once I got in my hands I was like, “Oh yeah, this going to be cool.” It was pretty windy though, so I didn’t have to wave it too much.

The whole thing seemed to go so quickly, but maybe I was walking a little too fast! There was a woman walking in front of me, who was holding a sign saying ‘Belgium’, so I was just following her. Then I turned around and saw the rest of the team way behind me, I was like, “Why are you guys walking so slowly?” Then I just decided that it doesn’t really matter if we’re a few seconds late, so I slowed down and enjoyed the experience with the rest of the team.

Just like in Sochi, the slopestyle here started the day after the Opening Ceremony as well, so I couldn’t stay around to watch the rest of the show. The Belgian Olympic Committee made sure that I could get back to my room and get to bed on time!

I was just so happy to be a part of it. I feel like the Opening Ceremony makes your Olympic experience so much more worthwhile; you’re not just coming here for a competition, like you do every other week of the year. You get to experience a whole different event in itself and it makes it so much more magical.

Obviously how you perform in your events has a big influence on how much you enjoy your Olympic experience, but this was the perfect start for me.