For the First Time, Nearly Every Country Had a Female Flag Bearer at the Olympic Opening Ceremony

The Olympics 2021 have officially started. Athletes from around the world gathered in Tokyo after a year-long postponement for an Opening Ceremony that looks different from any before it. With the pandemic still very much a threat, athletes poured into a mostly empty Olympic stadium in Tokyo on July 23. (Though there were a select few foreign dignitaries in the stands, including first lady Jill Biden.) 

But that’s not the only reason the Opening Ceremony looked different this year: For the first time ever, nearly every country had a female flag bearer. 

Being selected as the flag bearer for the athlete parade during the Opening Ceremony (and the Closing Ceremony) is a huge honor. Legends like Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, and Mia Hamm have all had the recognition. But not surprisingly, the vast majority of flag bearers in Olympic history have been men. 

In a move to promote global gender equality, the International Olympic Committee announced a rule change last year. Rather than just one flag bearer, each country would be allowed and encouraged to have two athletes—one male and one female—jointly carrying the flag. “With 49% female participation, Tokyo 2020 will be the first gender-equal Olympic Games ever,” according to the IOC. “For the first time, there will be at least one female and one male athlete in each of the teams participating in the Games.”

The woman carrying the flag for Team USA? Sue Bird, five-time Olympian, four-time WNBA Champion, all-time badass (and fiancée to Megan Rapinoe), who was elected by her Olympic peers to lead Team USA into the stadium along with baseball player Eddy Alvarez. 

“I think that’s the best part—to have your peers be the ones to see your career and pick you to be the one to lead us in,” Bird said on the Today Show when the news was announced. “People always ask me what my favorite Olympic moment is, and it’s always been that in 2004, my teammate at the time, who’s now my coach, Dawn Staley, she was selected as the flag bearer. And we got to be in the front with her, and that’s always been my favorite moment—outside of winning, obviously. So to actually be named that now is mind-blowing.”

This won’t be the only history Bird makes in Tokyo. She’s on the brink of becoming the first basketball player—of any gender—to win five Olympic gold medals. 

You can catch a replay of the Opening Ceremony tonight at 7:30 E.T. on NBC or at

See all of Glamour’s Olympics 2021 coverage here.

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