Rafael Nadal made Spain flag bearer for Rio 2016 Olympics following London 2012 heartache

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Four years after suffering one of his biggest disappointments when he was unable to carry the flag for Spain at the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics, Rafael Nadal has been given the honour of leading out his country at the Rio Games this summer.

Nadal was selected to carry the flag in London but had to pull out of the Games because of injury. The basketball player Pau Gasol took his place. Now the former world No 1 has been given a second opportunity as the Spanish Olympic Committee marked the 100-day countdown to Rio by announcing their choice.

“For me it was an amazing feeling when I was told I would carry [the flag] in 2012,” Nadal said recently. “It was terrible news when I had to pull out of London. I’ve missed Grand Slams and Davis Cups in my career but the toughest thing was the 2012 Olympics.”

Nadal won the singles gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Asked how important he regarded the Olympics in comparison with the Grand Slam events, Nadal said: “There’s no doubt the Olympic Games is the toughest tournament to win in the world of tennis because you have only one, two, maybe three opportunities in your career. In Slams you have maybe 50. In Olympics everything has to be right in that single week.

“I have only competed in one Olympic singles. In Athens in 2004 I played doubles, but I was only 17 so it was a different story. For me the year I won the Olympics meant more than a Grand Slam because I was playing great, winning Grand Slams, and the Olympics was just that opportunity. It was amazing winning there with the team and being in the village. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

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Nadal was asked what he thought about the famous comment by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, who said that the important thing about the Games was taking part, not winning.

“The most important thing is to win,” Nadal said. “But winning doesn’t mean bringing back the trophy with you. Winning at the end of the day is having the right spirit and to be better every day. That’s winning.”

He added: “It’s not about winning titles and competitions because not everybody has the possibility to do it, so the spirit is your mental strength and physical performance, taking it as far as you can. To make that happen you have to work hard every single day and that’s a better feeling than winning things.”

Nadal said he did not know whether he would play men’s doubles and mixed doubles in Rio. He said it was down to the Spanish Olympic tennis captain, Conchita Martinez, to make such decisions. “I want to try my best and I want to play as much as I can, but at the end of the day we have a captain, Conchita, and she has to decide the things,” said. “I am open to play.”

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