The IOC announced last year that each country would be allowed to nominate both a male and female athlete to carry their flag during the traditional athletes’ parade.
It means Mills, who won silver at London 2012 in the 470 class and then gold in Rio four years later, will become only the fourth woman to carry the British flag at an opening ceremony, with the first, fittingly, having come at the Tokyo Games in 1964, when swimmer Anita Lonsbrough had the honour.
“To be asked to carry the flag for Team GB at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is not a sentence I ever thought I’d say,” Mills said. “It is the greatest honour in my career and I hope more than ever before that this Games can lift our country and deliver some incredible sporting moments to inspire the nation.”
Sbihi, meanwhile, won bronze as part of the men’s eight in London before switching to the coxless four in Rio, where he claimed gold. He becomes the fourth rower afforded the honour and the first since Matthew Pinsent carried the flag at the Sydney Games of 2000, with Steve Redgrave having taken on the role at both Atlanta 1996 and Barcelona 1992.
“It is an iconic moment within the Olympic movement – people remember those images,” he said. “I certainly remember the images of Andy [Murray] from Rio and even before I was a rower I remember seeing Sir Matt and Sir Steve, so it is something I am incredibly proud of.”
While fans are banned from attending the ceremony, athlete numbers are also expected to be drastically reduced, with some staying away over Covid fears and other yet to arrive in Tokyo due to restrictions on the amount of time they can spend in the Olympic village prior to their events.
However, having been unable to attend the opening ceremony at either of the past two Games because of his competition schedule, Sbihi is looking forward to a special occasion.
“It is going to be a surreal experience actually going to an opening ceremony but this year with the racing schedule it is actually manageable even if I wasn’t a flagbearer,” he added.
“It will be really special and will complete my Olympic puzzle. I’ve won a medal, been to the closing ceremony but now to actually turn up at an opening ceremony and be at the head of the team alongside Hannah it will be a lifetime memory that I will never forget.”