Greek sailing champion Sophia Bekatorou was the first athlete to officially open the Rio Olympics last night, carrying the flag of Greece— the country that is traditionally honored with opening the Games.
Modern Olympic tradition designates Greece— due to her historic importance as the origin country of the ancient Olympics, but also as the location of the first Modern Olympics in 1896.
The host nation— this year Brazil, enters the stadium last.
In between, all participating nations— more than 200 this year, follow in alphabetical order in the language of the host nation. As a result, Afghanistan was the first nation after Greece, followed by South Africa (África do Sul in Portuguese), followed by the others.
Despite making history by opening the Rio Olympics as the first athlete to enter the stadium, Bekatorou’s own road to Rio has been riddled with challenges.
She has long been considered one of the best sailing athletes in the world, having won Gold and Bronze medals at the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Olympics respectively, as well as numerous world championships.
But funding cuts from Greece’s financial crisis have made it hard for athletes like Bekatorou to train properly— often needing to fund their own equipment and pay their own expenses to championship competitions that qualify them for spots on national teams.
Adding to the financial difficulties, Bekatorou faced a family tragedy as her beloved sister, Dr. Varia Bekatorou, was diagnosed and eventually passed away from a malignant brain cancer.