BEIJING -- US flag bearer Lopez Lomong said Friday he disagreed with Chinese policy on his former country Sudan, and was disappointed prominent Darfur activist Joey Cheek had been barred from the Olympics.
Lomong was a victim of violence in southern Sudan as a child and spent 10 years in a refugee camp in Kenya before being adopted by a US family.
He became a US citizen last year and was voted by US sport captains to carry the American banner in Friday night's opening ceremony.
"American people, with the great democracy they have, chose to vote for me. I don't have words for it. I'm so happy," Lomong said. "I'm so proud to be an American and raise that flag proudly."
Lomong also is a member of Team Darfur, a global athlete group trying to raise awareness of the conflict in the Sudanese region of Darfur.
"I lived that life before. That's why I'm a member of Team Darfur. I lived that situation," Lomong said. "Olympics is supposed to be a thing to bring people together. It's a peaceful thing."
Asked about China's support of the Sudan government and its record on human rights, Lomong made his feelings clear.
"I don't go for how the government thinks," Lomong said. "I hope I'm here to inspire other kids. All the nations are watching and they will learn how I got here and I will represent my cause."
"Hopefully somebody out there, maybe a Chinese kid, will take my story and learn from it. Maybe I can inspire a Chinese kid to follow his dreams, to overcome those obstacles."
Lomong also rebuked China for revoking an entry visa for Cheek, an Olympic gold medalist speedskater and Team Darfur co-founder, who was planning to attend the Games as a private citizen.
"I'm disapointed Joey Cheek is not here," Lomong said. "He's supposed to be here. He is an Olympian."
US Olympic Committee (USOC) chairman Peter Ueberroth called Lomong being the flag bearer "a terrific selection" and "a wonderful statement."
Asked to elaborate, he said: "It's a good way to judge a country when people come to the US and want to become citizens."
When asked if Lomong's selection was a message from US athletes to China's government on human rights issues, he said that if it was, that was a good thing.
"The athletes would better be able to answer that than I could," Ueberroth said. "Either way, it's fine. Either way, it's good."
Lomong met US basketball star LeBron James after his comments, impressing the National Basketball Association superstar.
"It's unbelievable what he has been through, knowing where he has come from and hearing his words," James said. "There's no better person to be the flag bearer for us. I'm happy about it."
Lomong told a handful of US athletes he wanted to carry the flag when they gathered in San Francisco before flying to Asia.
"I mentioned to my peers I would like to be the one carrying that flag," he said. "A lot of my peers spread the word."
Lomong retold his tale of being taken from his family by a militia at six, escaping captivity after three weeks and running through the wilderness three days to Kenya, where he spent a decade in a refugee camp.
"The courage and perseverance he has shown to stand on the Olympic field is a testament to his will and desire," USOC chief executive Jim Scherr said.