Buninyong athlete leads out Australian team

A BUNINYONG man has this morning launched his nation’s bid for gold at the 2012 London Paralympic Games by carrying the Australian flag at the opening ceremony.
Nanjing Night Net

National flag bearer and wheelchair rugby star Greg Smith led his team out during this morning’s opening ceremony, which began at 4.30am Ballarat time.

Just hours before the honour became a reality, Mr Smith told The Courier he would never forget the moment.

“I’m not that nervous really, just excited more than anything,” he said.

“It’s a great honour, it really is.”

Mr Smith said he had tried to focus on the task at hand, but couldn’t help getting slightly overwhelmed with the responsibility.

“Sometimes I put it to the back of my mind, then one of the rugby jokers will give me a bit of stick about it, so it is really starting to sink in,” he said.

“I’ve got lots of family back home, so I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of TVs switched on early in Buninyong and Ballarat.

“Hopefully I do a good job.”

The 45-year-old was left a quadriplegic after a 1986 car accident but went on to compete in wheelchair racing in Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000.

Winning three gold, three silver and two bronze medals, he later joined Australia’s silver medal-winning wheelchair rugby team for the Beijing 2008 games.

His stand-out performance in Sydney cemented his place as the world’s best wheelchair racer in his class, winning the 800, 1500 and 5000-metre races and collecting two world records.

He won the 2004 NSW state league Most Valuable Player Award and the National Wheelchair Rugby League Best New Talent award, and became assistant coach to Australia’s wheelchair rugby team, the Steelers.

Mr Smith retired after the Beijing games, before launching a comeback in 2010 and winning silver at the world championships.

But he said his only thoughts this morning would be his duties as Australian flag bearer.

“I’m not sure exactly how far I get to go – it could be 100 metres or it could be 400 metres,” he said.

“The whisper is the Queen will be there, so I’m sure there’s some etiquette I have to follow there.”

Mr Smith’s team doesn’t begin playing rugby until the second week of the games.

“It’s great for me because I get to focus on the flag, then we can focus on getting the real job done – which is winning the gold medal.”

Flying the flag: Greg Smith when he was announced as the Australian team’s Paralympics flag bearer.