Sonja Gaudet will carry Canada’s flag at the opening ceremony of the Sochi Paralympics.
Whether the most decorated wheelchair curler in history sticks around for the rest of the show is still up in the air.
Gaudet was announced as Canada’s flag-bearer on Wednesday and will lead her country’s delegation into Fisht Stadium on Friday night.
But with the festivities expected to go late into the evening and the curling team’s first game set for the following morning, Gaudet might have to duck out early.
“We do have some strategies,” said Gaudet. “Our priority is to be ready for Game 1. It’s a big game for us and we’re certainly going to make sure that we are (ready). (Carrying the flag is) just going to give us a little more purpose and create a really positive atmosphere to compete in.”
The 47-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C., who won gold medals at both the 2006 and 2010 Paralympics said she was overwhelmed with emotion when told that she would lead the Canadian contingent.
“It carries a lot of purpose for me,” said Gaudet, who also has three wheelchair curling world championships to her name. “Of course we’re here to compete as athletes with a physical disability at the highest level — that’s what the Paralympic Games are.
“(But) it sends a big global message as well about looking past the wheelchair, looking past the visual impairment, looking past the missing limb and really focusing on the person and focusing on what’s there.
“We don’t want people to see what they see when they first see us. We want them to see the athlete, the person, and not notice what’s missing.”
Gaudet, who suffered a spinal cord injury after falling from a horse, also acknowledged that she wouldn’t have been named flag-bearer if it wasn’t for her curling teammates.
“I have a lot of emotions going through my mind right now,” she said. “Totally honoured to have this very prestigious position. I can’t wait to lead my fellow Paralympic athletes into the opening ceremonies. Although I might be physically carrying the flag, I’m honoured that my team is going to be up there with me.”
Canadian wheelchair curling coach Joe Rea said Gaudet was an obvious choice.
“She’s such a wonderful person,” she said. “She’s great for the sport. She’s done everything in our country to help develop the sport. I don’t think I could pick a person on the planet that deserves this more than her.”
Canadian chef de mission Ozzie Sawicki said Gaudet exceeded all of the criteria set for the flag-bearer, including previous international experience, a commitment to fair play, respect from fellow athletes and having made contributions to sport.
“No other wheelchair curler in the world has accomplished what she has done,” Sawicki said.
Gaudet is the second on the Canadian squad to skip Jim Armstrong, who said his teammate’s commitment is what got her to where she is now.
“In the six, seven years that I’ve known Sonja, all I’ve done is see her work very hard,” said Armstrong, who won Paralympic gold with Gaudet four years ago in Vancouver. “Her skills have just continued to improve and it has not come easy. She has set a work ethic that any coach would be very proud of.”
The curling team opens its schedule against Britain on Saturday morning and follows that up with a game against host Russia later in the day.
Canada made the podium 19 times in 2010 and has set a goal of finishing top-three in gold medals in Sochi.
The Winter Paralympics include wheelchair curling, sledge hockey, para-nordic skiing and biathlon, para-alpine skiing and para-snowboard.
Gaudet won gold at the 2006 Paralympics when wheelchair curling made its debut and followed that up with another gold on home soil. Her three world championships include last year’s victory in Sochi.
“We’ve been here. We’re comfortable here,” said Gaudet, who said the Canadian flag will be attached to a poll on the back of her wheelchair that she uses for curling. “We know a little bit what to expect at the venue so we’re in a really good place.”Report Typo/Error