Alexandre Bilodeau captured Canada’s first gold medal at the 2010 Olympics, while Charles Hamelin was the Canadian team’s only multi gold medallist in Vancouver.
Erik Guay narrowly missed the Olympic podium four years ago, but he’s Canada’s most decorated World Cup alpine skier.
The next honour one of them could add to an already illustrious career is Canada’s flag-bearer for the Sochi Olympics.
On Thursday in Ottawa, the Canadian Olympic Committe will announce who will carry the Maple Leaf into the Sochi opening ceremonies, and Bilodeau, Hamelin and Guay, all leaders in their respective sports, are all strong candidates.
Bilodeau won moguls gold on the second day of the Games, and the image of the freestyle skier celebrating with his brother Frederic is one of the most enduring of Vancouver.
Hamelin claimed two of Canada’s record-setting 14 gold medals, but even more remarkable is the fact the short-track speedskater, who’s also an eight-time world champion, won them within half an hour of each other, winning the 500 metres before returning to the track as part of the victorious 5,000-metre relay.
Guay posted a pair of fifth-place finishes in Vancouver, in the downhill and super-G, missing a medal in super-G by just three hundredths of a second. In December, he won his 21st World Cup medal, breaking the Canadian record for podium performances held by Steve Podborski.
Canada’s flag-bearer traditionally generates plenty of conversation, and this time is no different, with Canadian hockey stars Sidney Crosby and Hayley Wickenheiser garnering much support.
Crosby, who created one of Vancouver’s golden moments when he scored the winner in the final versus the U.S., isn’t expected to be in Sochi for the opening ceremonies as his Pittsburgh Penguins have a game that night versus the New York Rangers.
While Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara is missing two of Boston’s NHL games to carry the flag for Slovakia, when asked about the possibility of carrying Canada’s flag, Crosby said last weekend “It hasn’t been brought up (by the Canadian Olympic Committee).”
Wickenheiser, meanwhile, is Canada’s biggest women’s star and a pioneer of the game who will make her fifth Olympic appearance. According to Hockey Canada, the women’s team will march in the Feb. 7 opening ceremonies, despite playing their opening game the following night versus Switzerland.
Wickenheiser, however, was a participant in the 2010 opening ceremonies — she read the athletes’ oath. Plus, women’s hockey player Danielle Goyette carried the flag into the opening ceremonies in 2006 in Turin, Italy.
Long-track speedskater Clara Hughes carried the flag in the 2010 opening ceremonies while figure skater Joannie Rochette, who captured bronze just days after the death of her mom, was chosen to carry it out.
Other favourites for Sochi include figure skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who won Canada’s first ice dance gold medal in Vancouver, and three-time world champion Patrick Chan. With the new team event starting the day before the opening ceremonies, however, Virtue and Moir have said they won’t march.
Two-time world champion Kaillie Humphries, who teamed up with Heather Moyse in Vancouver to win Canada’s first ever women’s bobsled medal, is another favourite. She and Moyse will be gunning for gold again in Sochi. And long-track speedskater Christine Nesbitt also won gold in Vancouver, and is a seven-time world champion and has won a whopping 39 World Cup titles.
There’s a Facebook pace supporting skier Larisa Yurkiw for flag-bearer that has over 3,500 likes. Yurkiw missed the Vancouver Games after suffering a bad knee injury in 2009, and then was forced to go pounding on doors for financial support after she was cut from the national team program. Yurkiw bounced back to qualify for Canada’s Sochi-bound team.
Each sport nominates an athlete as a candidate for flag-bearer. But some athletes see the responsibility as a distraction. Diver Alexandre Despatie told reporters before the 2012 London Games that he would decline any offer to carry the flag.
“It’s a great distraction, although it is the greatest honour an athlete can receive,” the two-time Olympic silver medallist said.
Moguls skier Jean-Luc Brassard finished fourth at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, and blamed his disappointing performance on the fact he’d carried the flag a day earlier.
Among other recent flag-bearers named recently: Japan selected women’s curler Ayumi Ogasawara, Italy chose two-time Olympic men’s luge champion Armin Zoeggeler, and Spain will hand its flag to figure skater Javier Fernandez.