Oly ceremony a boost, not bother: Campbell

Cate Campbell is expecting to feel a lift when walking out with the Australian flag.
Cate Campbell is expecting to feel a lift when walking out with the Australian flag.

A broomstick and the advice of Anna Meares and Lauren Jackson have readied Cate Campbell to lead Australia's procession at the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony.

Campbell and Patty Mills, both taking part in their fourth Olympics, will serve as Australia's flagbearers on Friday night.

COVID-19 has cast extreme doubt on what these postponed Games will look and feel like, particularly its celebratory ceremonial start that is traditionally associated with pomp, fanfare and camaraderie.

Australia's chef de mission Ian Chesterman expects approximately 50 athletes will march in front of empty stands, adding that number "might even swell".

Campbell, Australia's first female swimmer to serve as flagbearer, and Mills, the first Indigenous Australian to carry the flag, will share the honour of leading the smaller-than-normal group.

Meares and Jackson, who performed the duty in Rio de Janeiro and London respectively, have passed on some advice.

"They both said it is surprisingly heavy," Campbell said.

"I might have got out the broomstick once I got the news.

"But I am assuming that the flag is going to be a lot bigger and heavier than a broomstick."

Andrew 'Boy' Charlton is the only other swimmer to have carried Australia's flag at an Olympics (Los Angeles 1932), while Max Metzker led an Australian contingent under an Olympic flag at Moscow 1980.

Swimming's schedule has been the obvious roadblock preventing some of the nation's most esteemed Olympians from undertaking the responsibility.

But Tokyo's pool action doesn't start until Saturday night, while the sport's first medal will be handed out on Sunday morning.

Prior to accepting Chesterman's offer, Campbell made contact with her coach Simon Cusack plus head swimming coach Rohan Taylor.

"Because for me, performance comes first always," she said.

"I wouldn't have accepted this role, no matter how great the honour is, if I felt like it would impact my performance in any way.

"I'm really expecting to feel a lift and a boost from walking out and feeling that Australian spirit."

Australia is yet to declare whether Campbell will be part of Saturday night's 4x100m freestyle heat, with the growing expectation being that she will sit it out.

"There's always a possibility that I will be called in. However, as I am one of the top two qualifiers there is an option for me to go straight through to the final," she said.

Some six officials will be allowed to march in Australia's contingent, with Campbell and Mills each selecting one guest.

Chesterman has urged Australia's marching Olympians to enjoy themselves and "soak up the moment".

"It's been a hell of a road to get here," he said.

"Certainly going to be a lot of energy and excitement, even walking into an empty stadium.

"Because it represents the end of a very long road to what is the official start."

Some members of Australia's team won't be in Tokyo for the opening ceremony, while it isn't unusual for athletes to bypass the late night.

"You might not get back until 1am ... I don't know that I would have done it, even if there wasn't any COVID," rifle shooter Dane Sampson said.

Australian Associated Press