Opening ceremony as good as it gets for some

LONDON Fri Jul 27, 2012 10:52am EDT

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge speaks to the media before the London 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony in London July 27, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge speaks to the media before the London 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony in London July 27, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Chris Helgren

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LONDON (Reuters) - The Olympic Opening ceremony marks the point at which many athletes' dreams start to soar and take shape. For others like Rahman Mahfizur, it is about as good as the Games will get.

If the 19-year-old Bangladesh flagbearer is tempted to linger perhaps a little longer than some of the others, it might be because he knows it is his only chance to stand in the limelight.

There will be 204 nations represented in Friday's ceremony, with South Sudan and Netherlands Antilles athletes parading under the Olympic flag, and some 80 of them have never won a medal at either a winter or Summer Olympics.

Bangladesh, one of the most densely inhabited countries on Earth with a population reckoned to be close to 150 million, is the biggest of the non-medalists but is fielding just five athletes in London.

Mahfizur, a public servant swimming the 50m freestyle in his first Olympics, is living a dream nonetheless - the dream of modern Games founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin who declared that "the most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well."

That might seem old-fashioned in an age when the world's wealthiest nations spend considerable fortunes to secure bragging rights in the medals table.

Britain, as a nation, certainly expects some return from its nine billion pound ($14.13 billion) investment.

For others, mainly the world's poorer countries without the resources to take on the sporting elite, just being part of a parade watched by billions is something very special.

Imperceptible to the global audience, small steps are being taken. Bhutan may have so far only ever competed in the national sport of archery -- entering seven Games without success -- but in London the country will achieve a first with Kunzang Choden entered in the women's 10m air rifle competition.

WILD CARDS

Mahfizur will have heard the national anthem sound at a welcoming ceremony when the Bangladesh delegation entered the village and he knows he will not be hearing it again in competition.

No Bangladesh athlete has ever qualified for an Olympics, relying instead on wild cards agreed with the International Olympic Committee.

While Mahfizur can boast that he swam in the same pool as the likes of American Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympian of them all with 14 gold medals and more to come, his opponents will be less distinguished.

Of the seven men lining up against him in heat five at the Aquatics Centre on Aug 2, three come from countries that have never medaled - Jordan, Swaziland and the Cook Islands.

It may come as no surprise that tiny nations like Tuvalu, Palau or the Federated States of Micronesia have never won anything at a Games but there are others who maybe should have.

Nobody representing Angola, Guatemala or Somalia has ever won a medal -- although Mogadishu-born Briton Mo Farah should ensure Somalia gets more of a mention this time around as world 5,000 meters champion.

Somalia, a war-torn country without a serviceable athletics track, has just two athletes competing in London and they will be remembering fallen comrades after two top sports officials were killed by a suicide bomber in April.

The athletes parade, with Greece leading the way and the host nation entering last, gives everyone a chance to play a part. Some will join the greats, others may also enter Olympic legend for other reasons.

Men like Eric 'The Eel' Moussambani, the swimmer from Equatorial Guinea -- another country without a medal - crawled to fame in the 2000 Olympics when he swam his 100m freestyle heat in a time slower even than the 200m world record.

It was still a personal best, however.

De Coubertin, who died in 1937 when the Games were still strictly Corinthian of spirit, would have been proud of him.

($1 = 0.6370 British pounds)

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Nigel Hunt)

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