A “surprised and ecstatic” Rhys Walker will carry the flag for England at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Isle of Man this evening.
The 17-year-old badminton player from Nuneaton was named this morning to lead the 78-strong England team into the King George V Bowl Stadium in Douglas at the start of three days of intense competition in seven sports.
Walker, who follows in the footsteps of Nathan Robertson, the badminton star who was England’s flag bearer at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi last October, described the honour as “brilliant”.
“I didn’t even know I’d been nominated; it was a massive secret,” said Walker, who’s aiming for medals in both the men’s singles and mixed doubles competitions.
“It’s brilliant, and a massive honour. It’s such a big responsibility. I don’t think anyone realises just how big it is to be holding the flag for the whole of the England team.
“To be selected from every single person in the England team is such an honour. I was surprised and ecstatic at the same time.”
Walker, a BTec Sports and Exercise Science student at North Warwickshire and Hinckley College, has been national junior men’s singles champion for the last four years and with partner Holly Sm
Seeded three for the singles here, and two for mixed doubles, he is excited about his prospects.
“What’s so good about the Commonwealths is you’re playing against top players from top countries,” he said. “It all comes down to how it goes on the day, but a medal is definitely within my sights.
“I will go away happy as long as I can perform to the best of my ability and know that I’ve done everything I can in my own way to go as far as possible. You never know what kind of curve balls will come around in a tournament so you just have to aim to be the best you can and hopefully that will take me all the way.”
Walker will be supported in the Isle of Man by his mother, Angie, and father, Gerry, but he’s decided to let his flag bearing honour come as a complete surprise to his parents.
“They will be there supporting me tonight but I’m not going to tell them about this,” said Walker. “I’m going to keep it a secret so it will be a big surprise for them to see me carrying the flag.”
Walker took up badminton aged nine and is now partly coached by his older brother Darren, a county-level player himself.
“Darren will be even more proud of me when he hears this news,” said Walker. “He couldn’t get time off work to come here but he’ll be ecstatic. He’s so supportive.
“It’s been an eight-year journey for me so far, and this is the highlight. Hopefully there is a lot more to come,” he added.
“I’ve competed in a number of international badminton tournaments but things like the Commonwealths, the Olympics and the world championships are what you want to aim for.
“For me it was a big target to be selected for these Games. To get here is a massive success for me. So now I’m here I want to concentrate on trying to make a dream come true competing against some top players from across the world.”
Walker was nominated for the flag-bearing role by badminton team leader Martin Wells, who praised Walker’s “mature, professional” attitude to the sport.
“This is such a great achievement,” said Wells. “I’m pleased for badminton because it’s great profile for the sport, but I’m extremely pleased for Rhys. He’s a very mature, professional athlete. He’s a good ambassador for the sport and has a great approach to the game.
“He’s been number one in his age group for singles for last four years, but it hasn’t been easy. He has had to fight every time for those titles, which shows he has a strong character. Year after year he’s had to prove his place as number one with everyone wanting to take that place off him.
“But he has great confidence in himself and that shows great character. This is a great honour for him and a great honour for badminton as a sport.”
The opening ceremony starts at 7.15 this evening when the Earl of Wessex, vice-patron of the Commonwealth Games Federation, will open the Games.
The ceremony will be broadcast live by the BBC Isle of Man online at www.bbc.co.uk/isleofman.