Each country's team is preceded into the Olympic Stadium by an athlete or delegation representative bearing his or her country’s flag. The flag bearer for the United States Olympic Team is normally chosen by his or her fellow athletes or the respective team captains. The practice of carrying the nations’ flags first began at the Games of the IV Olympiad in 1908 in London.
The United States flag bearer at the 1908 London Games, Ralph Rose, failed to dip the Stars and Stripes as the Americans passed King Edward in the opening parade. Olympic lore has it that Rose’s teammate Martin Sheridan said, “This flag dips to no earthly king,” drawing the fury of an outraged crowd that had watched every other nation dip its flag in tribute to the British royals. In fact, the U.S. has never dipped its flag in recognition of the chief of state of the host nation, and Congress actually passed a law in 1942 that says the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing.
Moreover, the Olympic Charter now recommends flag bearers not dip their colors, and suggests instead that all delegations give an “eyes right” on command as they pass by the chief of state of the host nation.
What follows is a list of every U.S. flag bearer since Rose carried the flag in 1908.
United States Olympic flag bearers
1908 London -- Ralph Rose, Track and Field
1912 Stockholm -- George Bonhag, Track and Field
1920 Antwerp -- Pat McDonald, Track and Field
1924 Paris -- Pat McDonald, Track and Field
1928 Amsterdam -- L. Clarence “Bud” Houser, Track and Field
1932 Los Angeles -- F. Morgan Taylor, Track and Field
1936 Berlin -- Alfred Jochim, Gymnastics
1948 London -- Ralph Craig, Track and Field
1952 Helsinki -- Norman Armitage, Fencing
1956 Melbourne -- Norman Armitage, Fencing
1956 Stockholm -- Warren B. Wofford, Equestrian
1960 Rome -- Rafer Johnson, Track and Field
1964 Tokyo -- Parry O’Brien, Track and Field
1968 Mexico City -- Janice Lee Romary, Fencing
1972 Munich -- Olga Fikotova Connolly, Track and Field
1976 Montreal -- Gary Hall, Swimming
1984 Los Angeles -- Ed Burke, Track and Field
1988 Seoul -- Evelyn Ashford, Track and Field
1992 Barcelona -- Francie Larrieu Smith, Track and Field
1996 Atlanta -- Bruce Baumgartner, Wrestling
2000 Sydney -- Cliff Meidl, Flatwater Canoeing
2004 Athens -- Dawn Staley, Basketball
2008 Beijing -- Lopez Lomong, Track and Field
2012 London -- Mariel Zagunis, Fencing
2016 Rio -- Michael Phelps, Swimming
1936: Alfred Jochim, the first non-track athlete to serve as U.S. flag bearer, competed in his fourth and final Olympics at the age of 34. Although his best finish in Berlin was 52nd on rings, he had won a total of two silver medals in his three previous appearances.
1952: Norman Armitage is one of two Americans to make seven Olympic teams (equestrian Mike Plumb made eight), although he competed only six times because the 1940 Games were canceled because of World War II. He won a bronze medal in team sabre in 1948.
1968: Janice Lee Romary became the first woman to carry the U.S. flag at an Opening Ceremony. She participated in her sixth and final Olympic Games in Mexico City, competing in the individual and team foil fencing events. Though she never won a medal, Romary came close with a fourth-place finish in the individual foil in 1952 and 1956.
2008: Born in Sudan, Lopez Lomong became a U.S. citizen in 2007 and qualified for 1500m race for the Beijing Games on July 6, 2008 —exactly one year to the day after he was sworn in as a citizen. Lomong was taken from his family by militia at age six and held captive for three weeks. He escaped to a refugee camp in Kenya, where he lived for 10 years among other “Lost Boys” of Sudan. He was living with a foster family in upstate New York in 2001, and eventually became an NCAA champion. In Beijing, he competed in the 1500m but did not advance past the semifinals.
2012: The daughter of Olympic rowers, Mariel Zagunis is the only American fencer with two Olympic gold medals — the first of which she won in 2004 to end a 100-year fencing gold medal drought for the U.S., and the second she won in 2008. The Beaverton, Oregon, native made her third Olympic appearance in London, where she finished fourth in the women's individual sabre.
2016: American swimmer Michael Phelps won a total of six Olympic medals in Rio, five of them were gold. With a total of 28 medals (23 gold —the most of any athlete) in five Olympic appearances, Phelps is the most decorated athlete in Olympic history.