Anna Meares to carry Australian flag at Rio opening ceremony
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Two-time Olympic cycling gold medalist Anna Meares will carry the Australian flag at the opening ceremony for the Rio de Janeiro Games on Aug. 5 but has asked her family not to travel to Brazil due to concerns over security and the Zika virus.
Meares was announced Wednesday as the flag bearer and captain of Australia's expected 410-member team. The ceremony was attended by former Seattle WNBA basketball player and now-retired Lauren Jackson, who carried the Australian flag at the 2012 London Games.
Meares' father, Tony, later told Australian Associated Press that the cyclist asked him and his wife, Marilyn, who watched her compete at Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012, not to make the trip to Rio.
''She has a little bit of a concern about the security for visitors, which is what we would be,'' Tony Meares said. ''What's the best outcome? She was saying `I'd prefer you not to come' and that's just one worry that's eliminated immediately.''
Rio de Janeiro's high levels of crime and unemployment have been exacerbated by the country's recent political and economic concerns. Australian officials, and those of several other countries, have instructed their athletes to stay away from the city's slums, known as favelas.
Meares says she has also been in contact with team doctors about the mosquito-borne Zika virus which can cause birth defects. The virus has been cited as a reason for many top athletes to pull out of the games, including golfers Jason Day and Rory McIlroy.
''It's really hard to decipher between hype and reality and I'm just trying to take the information (from) the AOC's (Australian Olympic Committee's) medical team,'' she said. ''Being female ... it's been really difficult and I'm constantly on the phone to my team doctor. I decided to ... `diss' the hype around it.
''Honestly, it may actually be more beneficial to the people of Brazil, to put a spotlight on something they're living with daily.''
The 32-year-old Meares won gold medals at the 2004 and 2012 Games. She will defend her title in the individual sprint and also compete in the team sprint and keirin at Rio.
''For me, a country girl, a coal miner's daughter, to become the flag bearer for this country leaves me very emotional and proud,'' said Meares, who was born in the western Queensland outback town of Blackwater.