Rhona Howie (formerly Martin) represented Great Britain at the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Winter Games, winning curling gold in 2002, and serving as her country’s flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony four years later.
In the lead-up to the Opening Ceremony 2002, I’d been unwell so, unfortunately, the medical team recommended that I shouldn’t go. But we came to a compromise: I was allowed to march in with the team and then I was whisked away straight afterwards. I was really disappointed at the time but I was also aware that if it meant that I was going to be able to perform to my very best a few days later when the competition started, it was a sacrifice worth making. I’m really glad I was still given the opportunity to walk in though because it’s an absolutely amazing feeling. There’s so many people but you can still spot GB flags in the crowd which is remarkable. And I spotted people I knew in the crowd which seems impossible when it’s so huge. It was so loud and you experience this amazing buzz; it’s just incredible.
I was pretty gutted at the time that I wasn’t able to take full part in the ceremony and after I left having paraded in, I went back to the Athletes’ Village and watched the rest of the ceremony on television which was quite strange because I knew it was happening just a few hundred metres away from me. I think that was maybe a good thing though because it made me still feel part of it in a way because I could virtually hear it, it was so close. After the ceremony ended, all my teammates came back over to the Village and were talking about it but at least I’d watched it on television so I knew what they were talking about and I still felt that I had been involved in it.
It was amazing to go to the Closing Ceremony in Salt Lake City as a gold medallist. I was nominated to carry the GB flag at the Closing Ceremony so that was just incredible. I kept thinking: “I’m leading the whole of Team GB here, oh my gosh!” It was really unusual for a curler to be given that honour because there were so many other winter sport athletes who were so deserving that it was an unbelievable feeling for me to be chosen as flag-bearer. The closing ceremony is much more of a party whereas the opening ceremony is a lot more formal so it was really fun. And we all wore our gold medals so it was pretty surreal to walk in carrying the GB flag and wearing a gold medal around my neck.
Four years later, in Turin, I was nominated to carry the GB flag at the Opening Ceremony and that was just so exciting. Because I had carried the flag at Closing in Salt Lake City, I didn’t for a minute think I would be nominated to be flag-bearer again so when it was announced that I was to carry the British flag again, I was just completely gobsmacked. I think part of the reason I was so surprised was because there was skiers, bobsledders, skeleton athletes and others who had been at several Games and curling just wasn’t a sport that was at the forefront of things. So it was a huge honour to be selected.
It’s such a huge flag and it’s really, really heavy to carry. When GB were called to begin marching in, I started waving the flag and goosebumps just went all the way through my body. It’s an indescribable feeling to be honest. And again, similar to four years before, I could see so many people in the crowd cheering and waving. I noticed a huge difference carrying this flag at the Opening Ceremony compared to when I had carried at the Closing Ceremony four years before; it’s much more formal.
I got a photograph from UK Sport of me carrying the flag in with the team behind me and I’ve got it up in my house. It’s funny because I’ve got blond hair and so I would never wear white but the parade uniform was a white jacket and a white hat. It was lovely kit but not a colour I would chose to wear so I kept thinking ‘oh no, I’m carrying this flag with so many people watching and I just look entirely white!’ But it’s lovely to have a reminder because it’s such a unique honour. Far fewer people have carried the GB flag into an Opening Ceremony than have won gold medals so it was definitely a really special moment for me in my career and it’s something that goes down in history.