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Five things you didn’t know about being a flag bearer at the Closing Ceremony

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When Bryshon Nellum reported for duty as the U.S. flag bearer at the 2012 Olympics Closing Ceremony, athletes he grew up watching, including Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, pulled him aside to wish him good luck.  

He describes the experience as one of the best of his life.

“Being the flag bearer for the United States was my gold medal,” said Nellum, who won a silver medal with the U.S. 4x400m team.

He revealed five things you might not know about being a Closing Ceremony flag bearer. 

Flag bearers are chosen by their peers

During a dinner at the USA Track and Field training camp prior to the 2012 Olympics, several athletes stood and told the story of their journey to the Games. Nellum had no intention of speaking until 400m runner Sanya Richards-Ross nominated him to go next.

Nellum described how he was shot three times in the legs in 2008, and doctors said he would never regain his elite speed.

“All eyes were on me,” he said. “I could see jaws dropping.”

The day before the Closing Ceremony, USA Track and Field captains Angelo Taylor and Aretha Thurmond relayed Nellum’s story in a meeting with the captains of the other Olympic sports, and nominated him to be the flag bearer. After a vote, Nellum was selected. 

Nellum learned about his assignment after helping the 4x400m team win the silver medal. A U.S. Olympic Committee official approached him and said, “get ready to look sharp.”

“I couldn’t wait to get out there,” Nellum said. 

You need an escort

With all of the excitement of the Closing Ceremony, Nellum nearly got lost during the Parade of Athletes. 

“I started to go the wrong direction,” he said, “and [my escort] had to tell me to go the other way.”

Nellum’s escort was Samantha Alleyne, a model from London. The two talked nonstop throughout the parade. They have since kept in touch on social media. 

“You know how I do,” Nellum said. “I’ve definitely got love for the ladies.”

The flag is heavy

The flag pole was taller than the six-foot Nellum.

“It was pretty heavy,” he said. “But just being in the moment, I didn’t really care about how heavy it was.”

Flag bearers wear a holster around their waist to bear some of the weight. 

Everyone is watching. Everyone.

Nellum’s phone vibrated uncontrollably when he turned it on after the Closing Ceremony.

He had nearly 100 unread text messages and more than 50 missed calls.

“I took a screenshot of my phone to show what it looks like when the whole world is watching you,” he said.

NBC’s coverage of the 2012 Closing Ceremony averaged 31.0 million viewers, making it the most-watched for a non-U.S. Summer Olympics in 36 years.

You get to keep the flag

After the Closing Ceremony, Nellum folded the flag and put it in a safe place. He wore his Olympic silver medal to the several after-parties, but did not want to risk damaging the flag. 

“Pretty much everybody was out, celebrating and having fun with their medals,” he said. “It was wild.”

When he returned home, he had the flag framed. It now hangs on a wall in his home in Long Beach, Calif. with his other athletic memorabilia.

“That’s never coming down,” he said. “Ever.”

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