Susan Nattrass needs a steady hand when holding her shotgun, but can't be blamed for taking the Maple Leaf banner with trembling hands after the Canadian Olympic Committee named the country's flag bearer for the Pan American Games today.
Nattrass, the first women who has been a five time Olympian, will lead the Canadian contingent into Rio de Janeiro in 22 days and march not just into spotlight but also under as microscope.
Some Olympic athletes have declared the responsibility a burden and a jinx that interfered with their medal chances. On the other hand, three of the past four Pan American Games flagbearers have won double golds for Canada.
Among leading athletes on the 2007 Pan Am team who merited consideration were members of the women's soccer team - the national team captained by Christine Sinclair was just boosted to ninth place in the FIFA world rankings; heptathlete Jessica Zelinka of London, Ont., who has pushed the Canadian record in the multi-sport test; former indoor and outdoor world hurdling champion Perdita Felicien; diver Bythe Hartley, a five-time Pan American Games medalist.
"I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to be selected as Canada's flag bearer for the 2007 Pan American Games," said Nattrass. "Whether competing at the Olympic Games, the Pan American Games, the Commonwealth Games or at the World Championships, the opening ceremonies have always meant a great deal to me. This is an amazing honour. To be chosen as Canada's flag bearer is truly a dream come true."
The 2007 Pan American Games will mark Nattrass' fourth consecutive appearance at the multi-sport event after shooting was first added to the sports program in 1995. Among her career highlights at the Pan American Games, Nattrass captured a silver medal in the women's double trap during her first appearance in Mar del Plata, Argentina and added a bronze medal in the same event during the 2003 Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
A seven-time World Champion, Nattrass, 56, has represented Canada in shooting on the international stage since 1969. In 2006, she captured her seventh gold medal and recorded her 15th podium result at the Women's World Championships following her victory in the women's trapshooting event.
Nattrass's Olympic Games career began in 1976
Canada is taking aim on its 1,500th medal at the Pan Am Games. The country is third in all-time medals since the Games began in 1951. The United States has dominated all around with 3,679 medals, more than 1,600 of those golds. Cuba is second with 1,658 total medals, built largely with coaching assistance from its old political ally of the Soviet Union. Canada stands third with 1,439 over all and 309 golds. Argentina is fourth with 840 in total.
The chef de mission for the Canadian squad in Rio is former Olympic rowing star, Tricia Smith.
The flagbearer's job involves more than leading the parade of athletes into the opening ceremony. The flagbearer is expected to lead the parade to the medals podium. That's not a comfortable position for a lot of athletes, who feel they should do no more than concentrate on their events. Some think the task is jinxed. The curse of the flag was feared before the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, when cross-country star Beckie Scott, speed skating icon Cindy Klassen and bobsleigh pilot Pierre Lueders asked their federations not even to nominate them for the job, so they wouldn't have to turn it down later. Eventually, the honour went to women's hockey veteran Danielle Goyette, who led the team to a second consecutive Olympic gold medal.
Golds have been the colour of choice for recent Pan Am flagbearers. In 2003 at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, water skier Jaret Llewellyn of Innisfail, Alta., won both the tricks and jump competititons, setting two Games records along the way.
In 1999 at the Pan Ams in Winnipeg, Tanya Dubnicoff thrilled her home fans with a pair of golds, one in the time trial and her third consecutive Pan Am crown in the sprint. At Mar del Plata, Argentina in 1995, men's field hockey veteran Bubli Chohan was the flagbearer as the team won bronze in a tough field. At Havana, Cuba in 1991, it was the turn of equestrian Lorraine Stubbs to shine with a pair of golds. At Indianapolis in 1987, field hockey's Nancy Charlton carried the flag into the stadium and carried a bronze medal out.
That level of success is more typical for Pan Am flagbearers than for Olympians.
Of the 21 men and women who have paraded the Maple Leaf at the Summer Olympics opening, only five have gone on to win a medal at those Games. At Athens in 2004, judoka Nicolas Gill, a previous two-time medalist, tried to compete on a bad knee and was dispatched in his first match. Caroline Brunet, a world champion in kayak many times over, carried the flag into the 2000 Sydney Games, then missed out on gold medal in her two big events. Sprinter Charmaine Crooks carried the flag in 1996 in Atlanta, then ended up 18th in the women's 800 metres. Decathlete Michael Smith took the flag in 1992 in Barcelona and was given a DNF when injuries ended him before he ended the competition. It's been a tale of doisappointment since Carolyn Waldo won synchronized swimming gold at Seoul in 1988 and Alex Baumann starred with two individual medley gold medals in 1984 at Los Angeles.
The most infamous of the flagbearer flops came at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. Jean-Luc Brassard was a defending gold medalist and world champion in moguls, but he had to had to march and be on his feet in the din and clamour and face scored of demands for interviews and appearances on the eve of his event. He finished fourth and then became a target of criticism for saying that carrying the flag "was a mistake. I paid a price for that." He wasn't being anti-Canadian, he was being realistic as an athlete who gets one shot at the bigtime, every four years. Figure skater Kurt Browning did it in 1994 in Lillehammer and landed on his pants, not the podium.
The Pan American Games open in 22 days. Held every four years since 1951, the Games will involve a total of 332 events, 42 participating countries and an estimated 5,500 athletes. The majority of the events will be contested at the 2008 Olympic Games with the exceptions of some sailing classes, slalom canoeing and the women's eights in rowing.
In 2007, the Pan American Games will feature several competitions which will act as direct qualifiers for the 2008 Olympic Games. Among the sport disciplines that provide National Sport Federations with an opportunity to earn a qualifying position for the 2008 Olympic Games are equestrian, field hockey, handball, modern pentathlon, shooting, synchronized swimming, table tennis, triathlon and water polo.