Hayley Wickenheiser to carry Canadian flag at Sochi

OTTAWA — Hayley Wickenheiser doesn’t put much stock in the flag-bearer’s curse.

OTTAWA — Hayley Wickenheiser doesn’t put much stock in the flag-bearer’s curse.

The women’s hockey star, who will carry the Maple Leaf into the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics, says the idea that she and her teammates could be under any more pressure is absurd.

After all, they play a sport that many in Canada consider religion. So any sort of cosmic jinx pales in comparison to the weight of an entire country’s expectations for the women’s team to win a fourth straight gold medal in Sochi.

“I think there’s just too much emphasis to put on that,” Wickenheiser said Thursday via conference call from Austria. “The pressure that we feel is the pressure that always comes with playing hockey as a Canadian hockey player, whether you’re male or female.

“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.”

Not all athletes see it that way. Diver Alexandre Despatie felt it would be a distraction and said he’d decline any offer to carry the flag at the 2012 London Games.

Kayaker Adam van Koeverden carried the flag at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and finished a disappointing eighth in the 1,000 metres — although he did win a silver medal in the 500.

Moguls skier Jean-Luc Brassard blamed his disappointing performance at the 1998 Nagano Olympics on being the flag-bearer a day earlier.

Wickenheiser and her teammates hope the same thing doesn’t happen to them. Hockey Canada says the women will march in the Feb. 7 opening ceremonies despite playing their first game the following night versus Switzerland.

Brassard, the assistant chef de mission for the Sochi team, was on the panel that selected Wickenheiser along with chef de mission Steve Podborski, assistant chef France St. Louis and one athlete representative.

Hockey Canada nominated her for the honour.

“Throughout her successful career, this Canadian athlete has demonstrated true Canadian grit, patriotism and sportsmanship,” said Podborski, adding that Wickenheiser will lead the Canadian team with “the utmost pride and class.”

Wickenheiser is embracing the opportunity to put her sport centre stage.

“What I think it does is it shines a very positive light on the sport of women’s hockey and just on our sport in general for the world to see,” said the 35-year-old forward.

“That’s a great responsibility and expectation that every nation in the world has to carry in and I think should really embrace.”

The Shaunavon, Sask., native, who is at a pre-Olympic camp in Austria and wasn’t able to attend the formal announcement Thursday on Parliament Hill, will be making her fifth Winter Olympic appearance.

But for the first time since 2006, she won’t be Canada’s captain. Caroline Ouellette has been handed that job, while Wickenheiser will be an alternate.

But she remains Canada’s biggest women’s hockey star and a pioneer of the game. She and teammate Jayna Hefford will be the only players in the 2014 women’s hockey tournament who have played in every Olympic Games since female hockey made its debut in 1998.

Her stewardship extends beyond hockey as a spokesperson for Right To Play, Clean Air Champions, KidsSport, Spread The Net, Plan Canada’s Because I Am A Girl and Classroom Champions.

Wickenheiser read the athletes’ oath in the opening ceremonies at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and she is running for election to the International Olympic Committee’s athletes’ commission in Sochi.

Veteran speedskater Clara Hughes carried the flag at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics while women’s hockey player Danielle Goyette was the flag-bearer at the 2006 Games in Turin.

“I remember we were joking, like ’Don’t trip and fall when you come in,”’ Wickenheiser said of her conversation with Goyette before the opening ceremonies eight years ago. “That’s sort of the same thing we were talking about today. Geez, I’d better watch some YouTube videos and figure out how the athletes have done this before.”

Follow (at)steve—rennie on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A vial of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Alberta says it won’t give out more first doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for the time being.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Alberta to stop giving first doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot as supply dwindles

OTTAWA — Alberta says it won’t give out more first doses of… Continue reading

A Suncor logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 2, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Suncor Energy and Atco working together on potential hydrogen project

Atco would construct and operate pipeline and hydrogen storage facilities

Colonial Pipeline joue un rôle de premier plan dans le transport de l’essence, du kérosène, du diésel et d’autres produits pétroliers du Texas vers la côte Est.(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Pipeline officials hope most service will be back by weekend

Colonial Pipeline delivers about 45 per cent of the fuel consumed on East Coast

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Here is a list of latest COVID-19 restrictions in effect in Alberta

New mandatory health restrictions are now in effect in Alberta. Additional restrictions… Continue reading

Labour Minister Harry Bains arrives at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, June 26, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
British Columbia to give workers three days of paid sick leave for COVID-19

VICTORIA — British Columbia will give all workers up to three days… Continue reading

Minister of Health Patty Hajdu responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Coalition says users were shut out of drug decriminalization proposal, demands redo

Advocates are calling on the federal government and the City of Vancouver… Continue reading

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe waits in line at a COVID-19 vaccination drive-thru clinic at Evraz Place in Regina on Thursday, April 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor
Other provinces looking at Saskatchewan’s plan to tie COVID-19 vaccines to reopening

CALGARY — Neighbouring provinces are eyeing Saskatchewan’s plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions… Continue reading

This undated photo provided by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department shows a group of bighorn sheep in North Dakota. Alberta’s environment department has known for years that toxins from old coal mines are contaminating populations of the province’s official animal, the bighorn sheep. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Craig Bihrle/North Dakota Game and Fish Department via AP, File
Alberta government knew bighorn sheep contaminated with coal mine selenium: scientist

EDMONTON — Alberta’s environment department has known for years that toxins from… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a news conference at Rideau cottage in Ottawa, on Friday, March 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Trudeau rejects Alberta cabinet minister accusation he wants COVID health disaster

EDMONTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is rejecting an accusation from Alberta’s… Continue reading

In this June 8, 2017, file photo, fresh nuts, bolts and fittings are ready to be added to the east leg of the pipeline near St. Ignace, Mich., as Enbridge prepares to test the east and west sides of the Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac in Mackinaw City, Mich. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Dale G Young/Detroit News via AP, File
On eve of deadline, Canada makes case in court to keep Line 5 pipeline running

WASHINGTON — The federal government is stepping up its fight with Michigan… Continue reading

Denis Shapovalov, of Canada, tosses the ball for a serve to Ilya Ivashka, of Belarus, during the Miami Open tennis tournament Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
Canadian Denis Shapovalov books spot in second round of Italian Open

Shapovalov to face world Stefano Travaglia, of Italy

Most Read