Phelps, who was voted to carry the Stars and Stripes banner by his U.S. teammates, has a record 22 Olympic medals, including 18 gold.
“I’m honored to be chosen, proud to represent the U.S., and humbled by the significance of carrying the flag and all it stands for,” Phelps said in a statement. “I want to walk in the Opening Ceremony, take it all in, represent America in the best possible way and make my family proud. This time around, it’s about so much more than medals.”
Most nations briefly lower their flag as they pass the host nation’s leaders at each Opening Ceremony.
The U.S. flag, comprised of 13 horizontal stripes, alternate red and white, and 50 white stars in a blue field, most likely will continue its tradition of remaining upright, but that decision, ultimately, is up to Phelps.
According to the United States Flag Code contained in Chapter 1 of Title Four of the United States Code, the flag “should not be dipped to any person or thing”.
Legend has it that shot-putter Ralph Rose, of Irish decent, refused to dip the U.S. flag to King Edward VII during the Opening Ceremony of the 1908 Olympics in London. Teammate Martin Sheridan, also an Irish-American, supposedly supported Rose’s refusal by saying: “This flag dips to no earthly king.”
The decision to lower or not to lower the banner has varied after that.
The U.S. flag was lowered for King Gustav V at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. Flag bearer Patrick McDonald, who held the flag high at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, had a change of heart at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, by dipping the banner.
In 1936, Germany, led by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party, hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics. There was talk of a U.S. boycott, but the Americans participated with officials announcing the team would not lower the flag to Hitler at either Games.
The tradition was formalized in the US Flag Code in the 1940s and hasn’t been lowered at the Olympics since.
“You’ve got to keep the flag straight up no matter what,” Athens 2004 flag bearer Dawn Staley told the LATimes. “Straight, straight, straight.”