British cross-country skier and biathlete Mike Dixon is one of just seven athletes to have competed at six Olympic Winter Games. And he holds the unique distinction of being Team GB’s flag-bearer three times, in 1994, 1998 and 2002.
I went to the Opening Ceremony at my first Games, in Sarajevo in 1984, and at the time, I remember thinking that it was the most amazing few hours of my life - it was so special. The fact that I was there at all was quite strange because I had never touched a pair of skis until my 19th birthday and that was with the military. On that night of my first experience of skiing, our sergeant in charge put on a film for us to watch - it was ‘Chariots of Fire’. I’d never really seen much regarding the Olympics until then but, by the end of that film, I had vowed that whatever else I did in my life, I would go to an Olympic Games. I had no idea what sport it would be in but in those months following me watching that film, I visualised so many times what it would be like to be a part of a marching-in ceremony. Everyone said it was an impossible goal but, just over two years later, I was at the Opening Ceremony in Sarajevo, which was pretty surreal.
Walking into the Ceremony in 1984 was like experiencing an electric charge and it really made me feel like this was what I wanted: to be a part of this British team moving forward. At my first Closing Ceremony, it was a mixture of emotions for me. I had done everything in my power to be the best I could be and so I thought well, job done, I need to get on with life now. But the Closing Ceremony really can seem like a bubble bursting and I know that a lot of people go on a real downer afterwards because everything you’ve ever dreamt of is over. For me, being in the military, I had to go straight back to duty so it was a double smack of reality. I definitely felt some strange emotions at that Closing Ceremony, but more than anything, those Games had made me hungry for more and made me really want to be back.
It was at my third Games that I was first nominated to be flag-bearer, and being told was one of those moments when you can’t even remember your phone number because you’re just stunned. I had no inclination that it was going to be me so it was just incredible. Preparing to walk in with the flag and the team behind me, I have to admit that I was very nervous. I felt a lot of responsibility and it’s one of those moments that can make you or it can shake you. But the feeling of knowing that basically half of the people on the planet are watching you is just magnificent.
To be nominated as flag-bearer for a second time, in 1998, was astonishing. At the function Team GB held to announce the flag-bearer, Princess Anne and the Sports Minister were on stage and I felt 100 per cent sure that it wouldn’t be me so I was so chilled-out. And then when they said my name, I nearly dropped my glass - I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing. And it’s picked by your teammates, which makes it even more special because you know that you’ve got the backing of your fellow athletes which is fantastic.
Carrying the flag that second time was much more relaxing than the first time four years before. The flag felt beautiful and I smiled the entire way round. The first time, I had wanted to do it with real respect, but the second time, I realised that you can actually relax and enjoy the experience.
When I was nominated for the third time, in 2002, I was even more shocked than four years before. I had thought there was absolutely no possibility of that happening. That one was so, so special and it’s quite amazing to have been given that privilege three times. In 2002, I knew my journey was ending- I knew that would be my final Winter Olympics so it was quite emotional. I felt similarly emotional at the Closing Ceremony that year because it was a long, long journey that I’d had. It was a massive chapter of my life coming to an end and so I had a real mixture of emotions; I was satisfied that I had done everything I could throughout my career and I was excited about my life going in a new direction, a new chapter of my life beginning, but it was also sad that this would be my last Games.
I may not be an athlete anymore but my son, Scott, is a biathlete and he’s aiming to qualify for PyeongChang in 2018 so it would be fantastic to be watching the Opening Ceremony next year with him involved in it. I’d really love that because I’ll know exactly what it feels like.