The United States began the Olympics with swimmer Michael Phelps as its flag bearer. When the Olympics end, the mantle will be passed along to another, Simone Biles, who was named as the flag-bearer for the 2016 Olympic closing ceremony.
Over the course of the 2016 Olympics, Biles was one of the main faces of Team USA, winning five medals (including four gold) and cementing her status as the best gymnast in the world and one of the best in history. Given her stellar performances, it is easy to see why Biles was selected for the honor.
But, with Team USA in firm command of the medal count, there was certainly no shortage of options for bearing the flag. Swimmer Katie Ledecky also came away with five medals (four golds, one silver) and put forth one of the most memorable performances for women’s swimming, including when she outpaced her competition in the 800-meter freestyle by a whopping 11 seconds. Fellow US swimmer Simone Manuel came away with four medals (two gold, two silver) and earned her place in history with her victory in the 100-meter freestyle, becoming the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in an individual event in swimming. There are loads of other options as well, from Tamika Catchings to Ashton Eaton.
More than anything, Biles’ bearing of the U.S. flag is significant in that it stands as the progress and impact that women athletes had for Team USA. Of the 555 athletes sent to Rio by the United States, 292 of them were women, the highest of any nation. They also shouldered much of the medal count, entering Saturday winning 55 medals, compared to the 46 won by the men.
Biles is a very solid choice to bear the flag for Team USA to close out this Olympic cycle, and she and the rest of the 555 athletes of the United States will close the door on a very memorable and dominant Olympic cycle.