"To be able to lead Team USA is an absolute honor," said Eddy Alvarez

By Nicholas Rice
July 21, 2021 09:50 AM
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Sue Bird, Eddy Alvarez
Credit: Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty; Mark Brown/Getty

Sue Bird and Eddy Alvarez have been tasked with a very important role at the upcoming Tokyo Summer Olympics.

On Wednesday, the Today show revealed that the USA Women's Basketball star, 40, and the USA Baseball infielder, 31, will serve as flag bearers at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, which are scheduled to begin on Friday.

In the past, one individual usually served as the flag bearer, but it was changed to two people this year after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wanted "one male and one female to represent each nation as a symbol of gender parity," according to Today.

Listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day for more on the Olympics.

Each of the respective flag bearers is chosen by their fellow athletes ahead of the Games, the outlet added.

"With 49 percent female participation, Tokyo 2020 will be the first gender-equal Olympic Games ever," the IOC said in a prior statement. "For the first time, there will be at least one female and one male athlete in each of the teams participating in the Games."

Bird has won four gold medals with the women's basketball team, NBC Olympics reported, while Alvarez has played with the Miami Marlins and won a silver medal in speedskating at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Speaking with Today after learning he received the prestigious honor, Alvarez told the outlet, "It means everything to me. To be able to lead Team USA is an absolute honor."

Bird, meanwhile, noted how touched she was that her peers chose her to represent Team USA and carry the flag.

"I think that's the best part, to be honest, to have your peers be the one to kind of see your career and pick you to be the one to lead us in," she said.

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Olympic athletes serving as flag bearers for their respective countries first began back in 1908 during the Olympic Games in London. At the time, track and field star Ralph Rose was the first athlete from the United States to serve as flag bearer.

Swimmer Michael Phelps previously represented Team USA as the flag bearer at the last Summer Olympic Games, which took place in 2016 in Rio.

No baseball player has ever carried the U.S. flag in the opening ceremony, according to Time. The sport recently returned to the Games at the request of the hosting country.

The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Summer Olympics is scheduled to kick off on Friday at 6:55 a.m. ET.

To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics beginning July 23rd and the Tokyo Paralympics beginning August 24th on NBC.