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Kayaker Will Carry U.S. Flag

Cliff Meidl, who survived a 30,000-volt jolt of electricity in a construction accident and became one of America's top sprint kayakers, was picked to carry the U.S. flag into the opening ceremony at the Sydney Olympics.

Meidl, 34, from Redondo Beach, Calif., was chosen Thursday (Wednesday night EDT) in a vote of the U.S. squad from a list that also included Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, soccer player Brandi Chastain and swimmer Dara Torres.

He will lead the largest team at the games, more than 600 strong, into the ceremony at the 110,000-seat Olympic Stadium Friday night.

"This is an incredible honor," Meidl said. "I am so proud and honored to be able to represent the USA and to lead the entire delegation into the stadium."

Meidl was a 20-year-old plumber's apprentice in 1986 and working a jackhammer in a large hole when he cut through three unmarked high-voltage cables. The charge was 15 times that of an electric chair and lifted him out of the hole, blowing off toes, cracking open his skull and burning his back.

"I then slid back into the hole with my knees in direct contact with the jackhammer," Meidl said. "I was brought back to life once right after the initial shock.

"I went into cardiac arrest again on the ambulance ride to the hospital, and then again once I was at the hospital. The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital 10 hours later. My chest felt like it had been run over by a truck from all the CPR they had to perform."

His knees were so badly injured doctors wanted to amputate his legs, but Meidl's parents refused. A plastic surgeon was brought in to transplant muscles from his calves to his knees, one of 15 operations.

"They didn't think I would walk again," he said. "But I was determined. I was on crutches for most of three years, enduring many, many surgeries."

Inspired by Greg Barton, a double gold-medalist in kayak at the 1988 Games who was born with club feet, Meidl took up the sport to help his rehabilitation.

It worked. Meidl was a member of the Olympic team in 1996 and last year won the K-2 category at the Olympic trials. He also finished third in K-1 at an international regatta at Bratislava, Slovakia.

"I still can't run or ski," he said. "But I can walk and I can paddle. I don't take things for granted anymore, and I definitely believe in nine lives."

Meidl is the first canoe-kayaker picked as U.S. flagbearer. The alternate flagbearer is hammer thrower Lance Deal.

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