Andy Murray's Much More Than GB's Olympic Flag-Bearer: He's the Country's Finest

Garry HayesFeatured ColumnistAugust 4, 2016

Andy Murray of Britain holds the trophy after beating Milos Raonic of Canada in the men's singles final on day fourteen of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Sunday, July 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

Andy Murray will carry the union flag for Great Britain at the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games this week.

It's a fitting honour for a man who has come to represent the greatest things Britain has to offer in the sporting world. He's transformed his undoubted potential into something tangible and rare; Murray's a British sportsman who is achieving success on a global scale and is doing it consistently.

Carrying that flag into Rio's Olympic Stadium on Friday evening isn't just a symbol of what he represents to Britain's pursuit of Olympic success. It's about something that runs much deeper; it's symbolic for Murray being the flag-bearer for Britain's sense of national pride.

It's been quite the turnaround for Murray. Once a figure derided in the UK media and criticised for an apparent lack of character, it was his success at London 2012 that saw him begin to turn the tide of public opinion. Taking a gold medal at Wimbledon in the men's singles—followed up by a silver with Laura Robson in the mixed doubles—was the catalyst for it all; it set him on his way to change the path of history.

He was back in a Wimbledon final 12 months later, this time finally breaking the 77-year wait for a male British winner at The Championships. It was an incredible feat—one that spoke volumes for his dedication and pursuit of glory.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Victory was justification for all the heartache that led to that moment. It was a vindication for him chasing his desire and sticking to his beliefs.

The prospect of becoming a Wimbledon champion was a significant burden for Murray to carry. Indeed, winning Wimbledon had been a noose around the neck of any British tennis player.

The home Grand Slam event for Brits may have been celebrated with a sense of wonderment from those who mounted Henman Hill—latterly renamed as Murray Mound—but for the players, every year that was added to the wait for a player to repeat Fred Perry's success, so the pressure grew.

To break that cycle required no shortage of guts. The burden of history cast a long shadow that only a special talent could conquer.

Having a British winner was almost a national obsession every year The Championships were played. When Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski were hinting they may do it, the country's anticipation levels would hit fever pitch only to be dealt a large serving of disappointment.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

It had proved the same for Murray, but unlike his predecessors, he has shown the mettle to actually follow through and deliver on that hope.

We can't overlook that; we shouldn't overlook that.

Murray hasn't just achieved that success once, heading to Rio as Wimbledon champion for a second time, of course. His victory this year was about something much different, however. When he faced Milos Raonic in the final in July, victory was demanded as much as it was expected.

Murray's become such an influential figure in tennis that British fans watch him with the view that he will now deliver. It used to be about a hope that he would. So much so, Britain's Davis Cup success in 2015 is expected to be repeated again on the back of Murray's exploits.

He's delivering the impossible dream. Just by being there, Britain have an edge wherever Murray graces his presence.

Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

For a country that is no stranger to dealing with sporting failure, it's an empowering feeling.

His Scottish roots probably dictated that Murray didn't feel the same disappointment as England fans this summer at Euro 2016, yet it's his British identity that ensures the entire union will be looking to him to restore national pride in Brazil.

English, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish—it's figureheads such as Murray who redefine what Great Britain represents in the modern age. It's what unites people, bringing them together to restore their identity.

In these times of political unrest and a post-Brexit era that has divided Britons almost down the middle, it's what the likes of Murray can achieve that demonstrates what Britain has long represented. A small island race has impacted the world in a way that defies its means.

Britain has punched above its weight, been knocked down and always got back to its feet. The union has been based on character and a willingness to graft, and Murray represents all those things.

Regardless of the Grand Slams he may well add to his collection or whether or not he successfully defends Olympic gold, it's what he represents that makes him Britain's finest sportsman.