Plenty of candidates to wave the flag

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Canada's standard bearer for Beijing will be introduced today

Who will be Canada's face at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the athlete who will carry both the nation's flag and its hopes when the country's 329 athletes enter the Birds Nest stadium for the opening ceremonies on Aug. 8?

Will it be 61-year-old Ian Millar, the equestrian who, with eight Games behind him, has nearly made a career of being an Olympic athlete?

Vancouver - Who will be Canada's face at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the athlete who will carry both the nation's flag and its hopes when the country's 329 athletes enter the Birds Nest stadium for the opening ceremonies on Aug. 8?

Will it be 61-year-old Ian Millar, the equestrian who, with eight Games behind him, has nearly made a career of being an Olympic athlete?

Will it be kayaker Adam van Koeverden, who has won more than 120 championships and is the reigning world and Olympic champion?

Or Susan Nattrass, 57, the world's oldest female Olympic trap shooter who was also the first woman ever - in 1976 in Montreal - to shoot trap?

Or will it be Vancouver swimmer Brent Hayden, who last year became the first Canadian to win world swimming gold in more than two decades?

There's a strong list of athletes who all could qualify to carry the flag for Canada in the opening ceremonies. Today, the Canadian Olympic Committee will announce the flag-bearer at news conferences in Montreal and Toronto.

As usual, the winner's name is a closely guarded secret known only to a select few within the COC, including Sylvie Bernier, the 2008 team's chef de mission.

Steve Keogh, a COC spokesman, said the winner will have been chosen based on two equally important criteria: athletic achievement and their community involvement or status as a role model.

"Both are important. You can't have one and not the other," he said. "For the COC, it really is someone that you want a sport to be in the nation. It's not just about sport or about being a great role model, it is about leading by example. You are really putting that person out there in front of all Canadians."

Keogh said potential flag-bearers are nominated by their national sport federations and must agree to stand if chosen. The selection committee is made up by the chef de mission, assistant chef de mission, two athletes, a coach and the executive director of the COC sitting as an ex-officio member.

The selection follows a long tradition dating back to 1912 when B.C. hammer thrower Duncan Gillis was chosen as Canada's flag-bearer for the Stockholm Summer Games. He won silver, setting high hopes that future Canadian flag-bearers would also reach the podium.

Alas, it was not to be. Of the subsequent 20 Summer Games, 14 Canadian flag-bearers didn't medal and canoeist Sue Holloway, selected for the 1980 Moscow Games, never made it as Canada joined a boycott.

Thus was born the myth of the Olympic curse, the belief that any athlete to be graced with the honour of flag-bearer could also kiss goodbye the likelihood of winning a medal.

That myth hasn't held so true for the Winter Games: of 19 flag-bearers 14 have medalled, including in spectacular fashion Danielle Goyette in women's hockey (2006) and Catriona Le May Doan in speedskating (2002). In fact, Canadian Winter Olympics flag-bearers have brought home 11 gold medals, four silver and two bronze.

Keogh says there are no rules that say a previous flag-bearer can't be chosen again, although that's never happened in Canadian history. The closest to that is van Koeverden, a favourite for today's announcement ,who carried the Canadian flag at the closing ceremony in 2004 in Athens.

Nattrass carried the flag at the opening of the 2007 Pan American Games.

Vancouver Sun




FLAG-BEARING CANDIDATES

Some of the Beijing-bound athletes who are likely candidates for the position of Canada's flag-bearer.
Ian Millar: At 61, this will be his ninth Olympics, and he'll be the oldest Canadian on the team. Known as Captain Canada for his relentless appearances at international events, he's probably the people's choice for flag duty. Millar has won more Pan American Games medals than any other equestrian athlete but he's yet to win at the Olympics.
Alexandre Despatie: Recovering from a broken bone in his foot, Despatie, a diver, is still a medal threat in three-metre springboard and synchro. The silver medallist in Athens won gold in this event at the 2007 Pan American Games, the 2006 Commonwealth Games and the 2005 World Aquatic Championships.
Marie-Helene Premont: The mountain biker won silver at the 2004 Olympic Games, bronze at the 2006 world championships and gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. The multiple World Cup winner is ranked No. 3 in the world.
Karen Cockburn: Won two Olympic medals in trampoline, a silver in Athens and a bronze in Sydney, and is aiming for gold in Beijing. A former diver who switched to trampoline, she's a 10-time Canadian champion, also winning gold at the 2003 world championships, 2006 World Cup and 2007 Pan Am Games.
Adam van Koeverden: Unbeaten in over 500 metres this season, the kayaker is the reigning world and Olympic champion with more than 100 championships under his belt. He won gold in the K-1 500 in Athens and bronze in the K-1 1000 and was Canada's flag bearer at the closing ceremonies.
Susan Nattrass: In 1976 she became the first woman trap shooter at the Olympics and is the oldest active Olympian in her sport. Beijing is her sixth Summer Game, and she is considering retiring. She won gold at the 2006 world championships and the 2007 Pan-American Games.
Brent Hayden: He won 100-metre freestyle gold at the 2007 world aquatics championships in Melbourne, becoming the first Canadian to win world gold in 21 years. He has been billed as the only Canadian with a legitimate chance to earn an individual medal in Beijing. He's also a threat in the men's 4x200-metre relay.
Karine Sergerie: Taekwondo world champion in the under-67-kg weight category, the Ste-Catherine, Que., native has lost only one major international tournament over the past two years. She has won gold at every Canadian senior national championship event since 2002.
Daniel Nestor: Doubles tennis player is coming off a runner-up finish at the French Open and a win at Wimbledon. He'll be paired with Frederic Niemeyer. Their 10-1 record at the Davis Cup is the best by a Canadian doubles team.
Tonya Verbeek: Won Olympic silver in Athens in women's freestyle wrestling in the 55 kg weight category. She has won nine international competitions since, including the 2008 Pan American Games.

Organizations: Canadian Olympic Committee, Pan American Games, Olympics Commonwealth Games Olympic Games Pan Am French Open

Geographic location: Canada, Beijing, Vancouver Montreal Athens Birds Nest stadium Toronto Stockholm Sydney Melbourne Wimbledon

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