Hayley Wickenheiser has been chosen Canada’s flag-bearer for the opening ceremonies at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Wickenheiser becomes the sixth hockey player named to carry the flag, the first since former teammate Danielle Goyette assumed the honour at the 2006 Games.
Wickenheiser, a pioneer of the women's hockey game, 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.
“You don’t really think about carrying the flag in the Olympic Games when you are a kid growing up and having a dream to go to the Olympics,” she told reporters on a conference call on Thursday.
“For us in women’s hockey, the Olympics is our Stanley Cup. It’s what we play for every four years, it’s what we strive for, it is everything.”
Wickenheiser has led the women’s hockey team to three consecutive gold medals at the Olympics, most recently in Vancouver. The team also won a silver medal during the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. The 35-year-old Saskatchewan native will serve as an alternate captain in Sochi.
Tipped as a possible future International Olympic Committee member, Wickenheiser has never shied away from defending her sport or speaking out against Russia’s anti-gay legislation and right of athletes to compete at the Olympics no matter what their sexual orientation.
“I am a big believer that the Olympic Games should be about including everyone, treating everyone with respect,” she said.
“I am supportive of every athlete being able to compete regardless of your race, gender or orientation and I will carry that Canadian flag proudly believing I am representing all the athletes that feel that way as well.”
Other candidates rumoured to be in the running to carry the Maple Leaf at the opening ceremonies included men’s hockey star Sidney Crosby, speedskater Charles Hamelin and skiers Alexandre Bilodeau and Erik Guay.
Long-track speedskater Clara Hughes carried the flag in the opening ceremonies at the Vancouver Games in 2010. Wickenheiser read the athletes’ oath in the opening ceremonies at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
Of the 21 athletes who have been named to carry the flag in the opening ceremonies, 10 went on to win gold medals in their respective sports. Only five have failed to medal.
Wickenheiser doesn’t put much stock in the flag-bearer’s curse.
“I think there’s just too much emphasis to put on that,” Wickenheiser said.
“The country expects a gold medal. Whether I carry the flag or not, I’m pretty sure our team doesn’t feel any extra added incentive that there’s more pressure to perform, because we already feel that already.”
Breakdown of athletes, by sport, who have carried Canada's flag in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Winter Games:
Speedskating - 6 (Clara Hughes, 2010)
Ice Hockey - 5 (Danielle Goyette, 2006)
Freestyle Skiing - 1 (Jean-Luc Brassard, 1998)
Figure Skating - 5 (Kurt Browning, 1994)
Alpine Skiing - 3 (Ken Read, 1980)
(Files from Reuters were used in this report)