Judoka Ricardo Blas Jr. carried the flag for Guam at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008, and four years later in London became the first ever athlete from his nation to reach the second round of an Olympic judo tournament.
I was nominated to be flag-bearer in 2008, which was my first Games, and so I really hadn’t expected it. The honour was given to me by the chef-de-mission of our team and it was such a privilege. It was such a surprise for me when I was told that I was going to carry the flag- my teammates were a really great group of athletes and it could have gone to anybody so it was amazing that it was me.
There were six of us in the Guam delegation - all of us were athletes so we were a pretty small group. In Beijing, I had never been at an Olympic Games before never mind being flag-bearer and so a lot of people tried to prepare me for what was coming. They did as good a job at that as they ever could have but no matter who spoke to me about it, nobody could ever have prepared me for what I was going to experience when I stepped out into the Opening Ceremony.
If you’ve watched the movie ‘Gladiator’ with Russell Crowe, it’s a little like that. It’s not so much a blood-thirsty war thing but more about the noise as you walk in. You’re in a dark hallway while you’re waiting to march out and you can hear the crowd before you go into the stadium. You can hear the noise and the cheering and the lights are starting to shine through. Everything’s really muffled though, but as soon as you step out into the stadium, it all hits you like a physical force. It was like I was being blasted by a Jedi knight or something. Walking out with the Guam flag is an experience that I never thought I would have so it’s fantastic that I had that opportunity. That feeling will stay with me for the rest of my life.
My father also carried the flag for Guam- he was flag-bearer in 1988 and looking back on that now, it makes it much more special for me that we’ve both done it. Before the ceremony in 2008, he didn’t actually give me much advice about what to do. The thing is that it’s similar to when you want to watch a movie and someone tells all about it beforehand, it can kind of spoil it so it was good that I could go out there and experience it for myself.
Four years later, at London 2012, I was nominated again to be flag-bearer but I gave it to our female wrestler, Maria Dunn. I felt like she really deserved it and also she had spent a few years in the UK training in the lead-up to the Olympics. And I had already done it so I felt like someone else should really have a go- I felt like it would have been a bit greedy for me to do it again and so I hope she enjoyed the experience, I think she did.
What was really nice for me at the Opening Ceremony in London was that there wasn’t as much pressure on me as there had been in Beijing when I was carrying the flag. I had been in the UK for a few weeks before the Games to acclimatise- I trained in Kendal in the Lake District and so that was fun and I was really enjoying being in the UK. When I was at my training camp, I was doing a lot of interviews and things because I’m the biggest person to ever have competed at the Olympic Games and so there was quite a bit of media interest. That was weird because I got more attention at the 2012 Games than I had in 2008 when I was flag-bearer.
Becoming the first Guam judoka to reach the second round of the Olympics got me the honour of carrying our flag at the Closing Ceremony. That was great but my result wasn’t exactly what I had wanted- I felt like I could still have gone further but it was still a success and to carry the flag was fantastic.
At the Closing Ceremony, you can feel that all the athletes are able to relax because for most the athletes, it has been four years hard training that’s now come to an end. And so when the Games are over, there’s also a slight sense of sadness in the crowd because we all know that we’re going to have to leave the next day and for many athletes, it’s back to the grind for the next four years.