As the sun was setting in the churchyard of the medieval St Bartholomew’s Church, Edgbaston, Australian men’s hockey co-captain Eddie Ockenden and squash veteran Rachael Grinham soaked in their appointment as flag-bearers for the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.
Both still seemed shocked by the honour, despite their decorated careers.
Ockenden, 35 has three gold medals from three Games, while 45-year-old Grinham has been to six Games, winning two golds.
“I probably thought the last one, Gold Coast, was going to be my last (Games), but here I am again, and I really wasn’t expecting this at all,” Grinham said.
“And I couldn’t imagine a higher highlight basically in my career.”
“You feel a little bit uncomfortable, to be honest,” Ockenden said.
“[You] ask yourself, ‘Am I worthy to stand in front of all these amazing Australians?'”
They are the second duo to carry the flag, after cycling twins Sal and Remo Sansonetti did it in 1978.
And Ockenden will become the second Kookaburra in a row to lead the team.
“I was rooming with Mark Knowles at the last one (Gold Coast 2018) and when he was named (flag-bearer)Ockenden said.
“I was so excited for him, [thinking], ‘This is so cool for hockey.'”
“I felt more excited for him back then, just for hockey and everything that I’m feeling right now, [because] I’m a bit more nervous.
“But it means a lot for me to be able to represent Australian hockey, and all the sports really, and all the athletes.”
Australia chef de mission Petria Thomas said 25 athletes were nominated for the positions, but her executive team had the final say.
“They become the unofficial team captains and we really look for not only athletes that have performed really well, [but also] longevity in career, the way they’ve handled themselves and the respect that they have from other team members,” she said.
“Both Eddie and Rachael ticked all the boxes there.”
Grinham hopes her appointment will give her sport a boost.
“It’s unbelievable for squash, especially in Australia where squash hasn’t been as popular in recent years,” she said.
“Considering we’ve had so many top players in the past, I think it’s really nice for that sport to be in the spotlight again.”
And Ockenden will be looking to continue the Kookaburras’ flawless record at the Games. The team has won all six gold medals.
“We love coming to the Commonwealth Games. It’s had great memories,” he said.
“It’s a really fun event, a really good environment for us to be able to come and do our work and play.”
About 250 Australian athletes and staff are expected to march in the opening ceremony on Friday morning at Alexander Stadium.