Patty Mills to channel inner Cathy Freeman at opening ceremony

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Basketball star Patty Mills says he wants to unite Australia as he gets set to become the country’s first Indigenous Olympic flagbearer at Friday’s opening ceremony.

Mills will be joined by swimmer Cate Campbell at the opening ceremony in Tokyo, a historic pairing for Australia, with Campbell the first female swimmer to be given the honour.

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While the Union Jack on the Australian flag remains a source of pain for First Nations people, Mills believes the honour of carrying the flag for the Olympic team can unite the nation.

The Matildas opened their Olympic campaign on Wednesday by proudly posing behind an Indigenous flag and Mills said he was inspired by the amount of Indigenous colour and art he has seen in Australia’s section of the athletes’ village.

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“I think the first thing that needs to be said is that entering the village a couple of days ago, just being able to see how much Indigenous artwork is in our Australian headquarters, having flags at the bottom of the stairs, it gave me thrills to see how much it was incorporated throughout our entire team,” he said.

“It’s something that’s very unifying, as the Olympic Games is. So for us to walk in and feel that impact, I can only assume the greater Australian team had that same feeling as well.”

As Mills strides out alongside Campbell at the opening ceremony, he will be aiming to build on the legacy left by the iconic Cathy Freeman, who famously carried both flags after winning gold in the 400m at the Sydney Olympics 21 years ago.

“For me, it’s Cathy and seeing how she represented herself, how she represented her people and what she was able to do throughout her career,” Mills said.

“As a proud Indigenous man I have a lot of things that are symbolic and have a lot of meaning to me. At the end of the day, it’s how it makes me feel as a competitior, and where I get my motivation from to achieve certain things.

“And the last thing is identity, it’s being able to showcase who you are throughout the world. For me, it’s one of those things that makes you proud of who you are.

“To be able to do it in a unifying way with the greater Australian team, I think this is what it’s all about. We’ve definitely come a long way. It’s special.”

Mills and the Boomers are aiming to claim an elusive Olympic medal and will face a hungry Nigeria team in the opening match on Sunday night.

The 32-year-old admitted that the team was yet to have conversations over whether they would take a knee prior to the match as a silent protest against racial injustices.

“It’s one of those things, as a team sport there are always things you try to find to come together and bond,” he said.

“If that helps you compete, that’s what should be done.”

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