Tears as Sophie Pascoe named Commonwealth Games flag bearer

Sophie Pascoe, the country‘s most decorated Paralympian, will bear Team New Zealand‘s flag at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The announcement was made at a ceremony on the Gold Coast, where the games are being held, in front of Pascoe‘s teammates and hundreds of family, friends and support staff.

Pascoe struggled to hold back tears as she thanked her teammates.

“To be classed as just another athlete and not a para-athlete is probably the biggest thing I can take away from it.”

Later she told RNZ: “It‘s not about being the para-athlete walking out – it‘s about being one team.”

The Commonwealth Games are an inclusive event, with para-sports being run alongside able-bodied disciplines.

Pascoe had to keep her role as flagbearer secret for three weeks, including from her parents.

“It has been tough keeping it a secret from them as they‘re my best friends and my number one supporters, but I really wanted them to have this as a special [surprise].”

Her mother Jo Pascoe said she was “just so, so proud”.

“She‘s worked hard… She‘s an inspiration for everybody.”

Team chef de mission Rob Waddell said Pascoe was chosen because she epitomised the values and the culture of the team and was an inspiration to all people.

“What this athlete does transcends sport and touches the hearts and emotions of every New Zealander.”

Pascoe was just 15 when she competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning her first three Paralympic gold medals and a silver.

Still just 25, she is New Zealand‘s most successful Paralympian and also has two Commonwealth gold medals from the 2014 Glasgow games.

Pascoe began swimming at age 7 and has been coached by Roly Crichton since she was 8.

In 2016, after Pascoe broke the record for most-decorated Paralympian at the Rio Games, Paralympic chef de mission Ben Lucas told RNZ there was more still to come.

“As an athlete in her own right, she‘s certainly one of the greatest that we‘ve had.”

She will have the chance to add two more medals to her haul at the Gold Coast Games, competing in the SM10 200m individual medley on 7 April and the SB9 100m breaststroke on 9 April.

Pascoe is New Zealand‘s 21st Commonwealth Games flagbearer, taking up the mantle from Dame Valerie Adams.

Pascoe said she “might not be as tall as Val, but I‘ll make sure that flag is tall up in the air.”

The opening ceremony begins at 10pm NZT on Wednesday.