In reflecting on the choice of female hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser as Canada’s flag bearer, it celebrates the career of a great athlete that very few can compare to. On a larger scale, it is symbolic of how Canada has allowed many new opportunities for women to compete in sport over the last few years.
The Olympic movement speaks of celebrating humankind without prejudice and fighting ignorance and the impact and growing popularity of women in sport is testament to such an ideology. Like so many other female athletes, Wickenheiser believes in giving back to the community. She is also a tremendous hockey humanitarian, having donated her time to causes such as Right To Play, Clean Air Champions, KidsSport, Spread The Net, Plan Canada’s Because I Am A Girl and Classroom Champions.
As the 2014 Winter Games marks her fifth appearance with the Canadian national women’s team, she is one of only two women (along with Canadian Jayna Hefford) to take part in five women’s hockey tournaments at the Games. Having battled injuries the last few years, there is concern that Sochi may be her swan song. Should Canada emerge with gold, Hefford, Wickenheiser and Caroline Ouellette would become the first women to win four gold medals in women’s hockey at the Winter Games.
With the announcement made by Steve Podborski, Canada’s chef de mission for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, it is an ideal way to pay tribute to the 35 year-old from Shaunuvon, Saskatchewan, who emerged as the finest women’s hockey player of her generation. Marcel Aubut, the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, and former owner of the Quebec Nordiques hockey club, acknowledged the appointment by announcing that Wickenheiser was one of Canada’s greatest ambassadors.
Other names that were discussed included Sidney Crosby, whose gold medal winning goal in Vancouver fulfilled his destiny as a hockey star. Kallie Humphries, one of Canada’s most successful bobsled performers, Larisa Yurkiw, who gained tremendous support via social media, speed skating champion Charles Hamelin and figure skating pair Tessa Virtue and Soctt Moir.
Perhaps the most impressive fact about her athletic career is that she was also a two-sport star. At the 2000 Sydney Summer Games, she was a member of Canada’s softball team. Ironically, Sommer West, who had played on the Canadian national women’s hockey team in 2000 was also her teammate on the softball team at Sydney.
She proudly follows in the footsteps of two other female sports stars that were flag bearers at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games. Clara Hughes (who has also competed in the Summer Games) carried the flag for Canada in the opening ceremonies, while Joanie Rochette was the flag bearer at Vancouver’s closing ceremonies.
As a side note, Wickenheiser had the honor of reading the athlete’s oath at Vancouver’s opening ceremonies. To follow it up with the chance to be the flag bearer for 2014 is testament to her impact as an athlete. At Sochi, she shall also be running for election to the International Olympic Committee’s athletes’ commission. Angela Ruggiero, an American hockey player, was successfully elected in 2010.
Despite all these accomplishments, there is a trace of irony as Wickenheiser is not the first women’s hockey player to serve as Canada’s flag bearer. That honor goes to Danielle Goyette, who served as the flag bearer at the 2006 Torino Winter Games.
While some athletes consider serving as flag bearer bad luck (Alexandre Despatie refused at London 2012, while Adam von Koeverden carried the flag in 2008 and won a silver medal), Goyette helped Canada to a gold medal. Canadian fans can only hope history repeats itself. Fans can expect to see her emerge from the tunnel into Fischt Stadium on February 7.