The unveiling of Canada’s flag bearer traditionally signals that the Olympic Games are about to begin.
It comes after much speculation around which one decorated athlete – or possibly two – will have the honor of leading Canada’s red-clad athletes in the opening ceremony.
From snowboarder Mark McMorris to mogul king Mikael Kingsbury to female hockey star Marie-Philip Poulin, Canada is full of riches to choose from.
But the selection is complicated by other factors, such as competition times – Kingsbury competes the day after the opening ceremonies, so he wouldn’t want to spend hours on his feet – and the COVID-19 pandemic which limits the time that athletes are allowed to be in the village. Athletes competing later in the Games may not yet be in Beijing for the February 4 Opening Ceremony at Bird’s Nest Stadium.
Ice dancing stars Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir carried the flag for Canada at the opening of the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018, and hockey superstar Hayley Wickenheiser four years before.
The International Olympic Committee voted to allow countries to select a male and female athlete to share flag duties to improve gender parity at the Games, and last summer in Tokyo women’s basketball veteran Miranda Ayim and rugby sevens player Nathan Hirayama both carried the Canadian flag.
There is a good chance that Canada will appoint two more people to Beijing.
In a perfect world, with no scheduling conflicts, here are some favourites, including great male/female duos, to wear the Maple Leaf:
Mark McMorris, snowboarding
The 28-year-old Regina native is one of the most decorated snowboard athletes in history. He won bronze at the Pyeongchang Games less than a year after sustaining near-fatal injuries when he hit a tree in Whistler, British Columbia. He broke his jaw, left arm, ribs and pelvis, ruptured his spleen and suffered a collapsed lung.
Marie-Philip Poulin, hockey
Nicknamed “Captain Clutch,” the 30-year-old from Beauceville, Que., scored the game-winning goals at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. She’s also a two-time world champion, scoring the golden goal for Canada in the 2021 world tournament.
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, ice dancing
The perfect female/male duo for flag duties, the reigning world bronze medalists are making their second Olympic appearance, having narrowly missed qualifying for the 2014 Games. They competed in Pyeongchang as Gilles’ mother was dying of brain cancer. She has since become a spokesperson for brain cancer research.
Marielle Thompson and Brady Leman, ski cross
Both are Olympic champions and represent a sport in which Canada excels. Thompson, a 29-year-old from North Vancouver, British Columbia, won gold at the 2014 Games. She tore her ACL just four months before the 2018 Games but earned a spot in the team and tore the same ACL again last March, but bounced back again to book a spot on the Beijing team. Leman, a 35-year-old Calgarian making his fourth appearance at the Games, won gold in 2018.
Mikael Kingsbury, freestyle skiing
The 29-year-old mogul king of Deux-Montagnes, Que., is one of the most decorated freestyle skiers on the planet. He is the reigning Olympic champion and recently stood on the World Cup podium for the 101st time. He is a star in a sport that Canada dominates, winning a world record 25 medals since the discipline made its Games debut in 1992.
Charles Hamelin and Kim Boutin, short track speed skating
Hamelin will compete in his fifth and final Olympic Games in Beijing. The 37-year-old from Sainte-Julie, Que., has five Olympic medals, including three gold, which puts him tied for the most decorated male Winter Olympian in Canada. Boutin received death threats online after the Pyeongchang 500 meters following a disqualification. The 27-year-old from Sherbrooke, Que., won a silver and a bronze in South Korea and was chosen Canada’s flag bearer at the closing ceremonies. She stepped away from skating during the pandemic for mental health reasons.
Cynthia Appiah and Justin Kripps, bobsled
Appiah and Kripps also make a perfect man/woman combo as the pioneers of their sport. Appiah, a 31-year-old Torontonian, could win Canada’s first medal in women’s monobob after finishing third overall on the World Cup circuit. She is also passionate about encouraging more black athletes to consider winter sports. And Kripps, a 35-year-old from Summerland, B.C., is the reigning Olympic champion in the two-man and also looking to step onto the podium in the four-man.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 30, 2022