Carina Benninga represented the Netherlands at the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games, winning hockey gold in 1984 and bronze in 1988. In 1992, she carried her nation’s flag at the Opening Ceremony, becoming the first Dutch woman to do so.
My first Games were in Los Angeles 1984 when I was 21 so that was my first experience of an Opening Ceremony. Even though it was my first Games, it didn’t feel overwhelming, it was just completely brilliant and such a great experience. The sense of pride you feel when you parade into the stadium representing your country is just fantastic. And you feel really connected to other countries, I remember there being a real sense of that. There was the sense and a spirit amongst all of the athletes that we were doing this together and that we had all worked so hard for this for so many years, that was lovely feeling.
And a funny thing happened at the Opening Ceremony in 1984- as the countries were starting to parade, the announcer called out Australia but Australia didn’t walk out so the announcer in the stadium just said: “oh…., we’ve just lost an entire country”. It was really funny and lightened the mood. The atmosphere throughout the ceremony was great- it was so relaxed. The Opening Ceremony in LA was lively and bright and colourful and everyone there was so happy and positive.
The Closing Ceremony in Los Angeles was fantastic - Lionel Ritchie was performing and it was just a great show, it was amazing to be at. It was very emotional too, because we were saying goodbye to all the people we had met during the Games. And it was emotional because it also signalled the end of just an amazing few weeks and a long time of hard and focussed work. I think the Closing Ceremony is a very important aspect of the Games because it brings everything to an end in a really great way. And to be able to go to the Closing Ceremony as a gold medallist was, of course, fantastic. I wore my gold medal to the Closing Ceremony which was amazing to be able to do and the entire time I was just thinking wow, this is unbelievable.
1988 IOPP, Séoul 1988 / OGROCKI, Susan
In Seoul four years later, the Opening Ceremony was very different in comparison to Los Angeles - it was a little quieter than four years before but I remember that we had a big party with the other athletes so we had fun. And I got to meet some fantastic athletes- I got a photograph with tennis player Jim Courier which was great. We were going crazy about seeing all the famous athletes so we had a good time.
In Barcelona in 1992, I was nominated to be flag-bearer and that was just amazing. It was fantastic to be given that honour - when I was competing, I was a very driven character so to be chosen to be flag-bearer was an unbelievable feeling. What was so great was to have been selected out of 215 athletes. We had just become world champions and I was captain of the team. It was unusual for someone who was in a team sport to be picked to carry the flag- normally it’s someone from an individual sport who is selected so it was very nice to be recognised. Of course, I was extremely proud to carry the flag and it felt like the crowning moment of my career.
Walking into the stadium with the flag was special. I was very focused on doing the right thing and it was such a massive honour to walk in front of the crowd in the stadium. Although it is 25 years ago, the memory is still very much with me. That was, without question, one of the better moments of my life and I have a painting in my house of me carrying the flag.