Having planned to be tucked up in bed, Rachael Grinham was instead dodging tombstones and left facing a sleepless night after the squash star was named Australia’s Birmingham Games flagbearer alongside Kookaburras co-captain Eddie Ockenden.
Grinham, competing at her sixth Commonwealth Games, and Ockenden – in search of a fourth straight Games gold – will lead out an expected 200-strong Australian contingent marching into the opening ceremony on Thursday night (Friday morning AEST).
The move to have two flagbearers per nation follows the lead of the Tokyo Olympics – where Cate Campbell and Patty Mills had the honour for Australia.
Fronting the media in the eerie setting of a graveyard outside St Bartholomew’s Church, Grinham was still coming to terms with the honour.
She admitted to being unsure why she had been asked to take part in a walk around the athletes village with team chef de mission Petria Thomas and Governor-General David Hurley – during which she was told of the decision.
“I thought I was going for a walk with the dignitaries and then probably get back and have some dinner with my team and be in bed by now,” Grinham said.
“An overwhelming surprise.
“I probably thought the last (Commonwealth Games) on the Gold Coast was going to be my last, and here I am again.
“I can’t imagine a higher highlight in my career right now. I’m kind of still pinching myself ‘ Did this just happen or what?’
“It’s unbelievable, I probably won’t sleep tonight at all.”
But the honour could scarcely be bestowed on a worthier athlete, with the Queenslander set to complete a Games journey which began in 1998 and has so far yielded eight medals, including two golds.
One of those gold medals was won alongside sister Natalie in the women’s doubles in Melbourne in 2006.
While Grinham will become the first squash player to be a flagbearer for Australia, Tasmanian Ockenden will make it back-to-back representation for hockey – with former teammate Mark Knowles earning the role on the Gold Coast four years ago.
Ockenden was Knowles’ roommate for the Gold Coast Games, and will be attempting to emulate the former Kookaburras co-captain’s feats by winning a fourth straight Games gold in Birmingham.
“When he (Knowles) was named I was so excited for him, I said ‘this is so cool for hockey’,” said Ockenden – who has never lost a match at the Games in three previous appearances.
“I felt more excted for him back then just for hockey and everything than I’m feeling right now because I’m a bit more nervous.”
Thomas said settling on the pair was a tough choice from a field of 25 contenders, which surprisingly did not include table tennis veteran Jian Fang Lay, who along with Grinham will become the first females to represent Australia at six Games.
She confirmed around half the team would take part in the opening ceremony at Alexander Stadium, a strong showing considering the jam-packed opening-day schedule.