Nicolas Gill: “When you go to the opening ceremony it really hits you that you’re at the Olympic Games”
Canadian judoka Nicolas Gill competed in the Olympic Games in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004, winning bronze in 1992 and silver in 2000. He was flag-bearer for his nation in 2004. Now CEO and High Performance Director of Judo Canada, he also served as national coach to the Canadian judo team at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympic Game.
Barcelona 1992 was my first Olympic Games and my memories from the Opening Ceremony are some of the best of my entire Olympic experience. I was only 18 and it was just incredible. I still remember it really well even though it was 25 years ago and it stands out in my career as a very, very special moment. The first step in the stadium was, for me, absolutely amazing and it was the result of so many years of training and so many years of thinking of that moment. For me, it really marked the accomplishment of making it to the Olympic Games and that moment was as good as I ever imagined it would be.
The Opening Ceremony was when it started to become real for me. The event itself is spectacular and Barcelona did a great job in making the experience particularly special. When you arrive in the Athletes Village and begin training it’s great, but it’s when you go to the opening ceremony that it really hits you that you’re at the Olympic Games. And the Opening Cceremony is the first time that you see a crowd- it wasn’t as big back then as it is now but still, it seemed pretty big to me. There’s television cameras and media everywhere and the opening ceremony is when people back home begin to take notice of the Olympic Games so all of those factors combine to make it a really special moment. At the opening ceremony, you really begin to feel that the focus of the entire world is on the Games which is a strange feeling.
In Sydney, in 2000, the Opening Ceremony was fantastic but I can’t remember too much about the Ceremony itself. It was strange- even though it was only my second opening ceremony, I felt a lot more blasé about it and I wasn’t nearly as hyped-up for it as I had been for my first Opening Ceremony in Barcelona. The Closing Ceremony in 2000 was probably my favourite Closing Ceremony because I was going there as a silver medallist and that was an unbelievable feeling.
In Athens, in 2004, I was selected as the flag-bearer for Canada at the Opening Ceremony and that was amazing. I was so surprised when it was announced that it was me - Canada has so many good athletes so I really hadn’t expected it all. To be carrying the flag and to lead all of the Canadian athletes into the stadium was just an incredible honour. That was, I think, an even more amazing feeling for me than the feeling I experienced at my first Olympics in Barcelona. Even though I was old and it was my fourth Games, being flag-bearer took things to another level for me.
For me to be selected as flag-bearer was also a really big thing for the sport of judo. In Canada, judo is not one of the biggest sports and there’s not often too much media attention on it; it’s not like track and field or anything like that and that’s what made my nomination even more surprising, I had expected someone from a bigger sport to be chosen. So me being selected as flag-bearer brought some great attention to judo.
I was fairly sure that the Athens Olympic would be my last Olympic Games as an athlete and so I knew the Closing Ceremony in 2004 would probably be my last experience of the Olympics as a competitor. But actually, I didn’t feel too emotional at that prospect. I had thought that 2000 could possibly be my last Olympics, so being at the Athens Games felt like something of a bonus to me.