RIO DE JANEIRO — Who will carry Canada’s flag into Maracana Stadium at the Olympic closing ceremony on Sunday night?
There are plenty of candidates who have shone over the last two weeks as Canada surpassed the 18 medals it won four years ago in London.
A top performer may seem like the obvious choice but it’s no guarantee swimmer Penny Oleksiak or sprinter Andre de Grasse will be handed the Maple Leaf. The selection panel _ which includes the COC president, the chef de mission, and representatives from the athletes commission and team selection committee — has been known to use the closing flag-bearer honour as a token of appreciation for veteran Olympians who’ve dedicated their lives to the cause, or to recognize athletes who may not have made the podium but had a big-hearted performance.
With that in mind, here is a look at some of the candidates:
The 16-year-old swimmer from Toronto seemingly came out of nowhere to collect four medals, including Canada’s first gold. She started the haul by leading Canada to bronze in the 4×100 freestyle relay on the first Saturday of competition. There was another bronze in the 4×200-metre relay before she surged to gold in the 100 freestyle on the penultimate day of the swim meet. Her heroics had people declaring she was the obvious choice for flag-bearer last weekend, but she’s still young and there will no doubt be more opportunities down the line. The COC could decide to honour a more seasoned Olympian and give Oleksiak the chance later.
ANDRE DE GRASSE
At 21, he’s another budding superstar on the Canadian team who will take home three medals from his Olympic debut. The Markham, Ont., native has thrilled Canadians back home with his performance on the track, sprinting to bronze in the 100 metres, silver in the 200 and anchoring his team to bronze in the 4×100 metres. While Usain Bolt made history by sweeping the three events for the third time, it’s clear de Grasse is waiting in the wings to take the baton from the Jamaican legend. Like Oleksiak, he’s likely got a few Games ahead of him and will probably be in the flag-bearer conversation for years to come.
There wasn’t much buzz about this 27-year-old wrestler from Ottawa in the lead-up to Rio but Canadians know her name now. She continued Canada’s medal streak in women’s wrestling with a gold medal at 75 kilograms, following in the footsteps of two-time Olympic medallist Carol Huynh and multi-medallist Tonya Verbeek. She may also have a cheerleader inside the COC as Huynh is an assistant chef de mission in Rio, though she’s not on the selection committee.
For a few hours, the 25-year-old race walker had a bronze medal before it was stripped due to a protest. But he won Canadians’ hearts — not easy for a guy who competes in a sport that is misunderstood and often ignored back home — with his classy response to the controversy. The Richmond, B.C., resident originally finished fourth in the gruelling 50-kilometre event but was awarded the bronze after officials ruled he was bumped by the third-place Japanese walker. A subsequent protest by the Japanese delegation saw the decision overturned and Dunfee lost the bronze. He could have taken his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but decided not to, saying the medal would always be tainted. All this makes him the sentimental favourite, though he’s not sure he’s up to it. “After the couple of days I’ve had if that flag’s heavy I’m not sure I’m up for, so I’m voting for Erica because I know she’ll be able to handle it,” he said Saturday.
The Laval, Que., diver became a three-time Olympic medallist in Rio after capturing a pair of bronze medals in synchronized and individual platform diving. She already had a synchro bronze that she won with Roseline Filion four years ago in London. After securing the third medal, she said had abandoned her plan to retire and would continue on to Tokyo in 2020. The 27-year-old veteran is probably a longshot but she has represented her country well at three Games and could be in the conversation.
There’s nothing this Canadian high jumper hasn’t won. He was a world, NCAA, Pan Am and Commonwealth Games champion heading into Rio, and he padded his resume with Olympic gold after a flawless performance. The 26-year-old from Corunna, Ont., was the first Canadian high jump medallist since Greg Joy won silver at the ’76 Montreal Games. Should the COC decide to task Drouin with carrying the flag, he will make sure the Maple Leaf gets noticed. He’s six foot five.
The veteran equestrian from Schomberg, Ont., and his chestnut mare Fine Lady 5 posted a near-perfect sheet in the show jumping competition, but they knocked down a rail in the final jump-off and had to settle for bronze. That didn’t dampen the satisfaction for Lamaze, however, who said he had to work hard to manage Fine Lady, unlike eight years ago in Beijing when he and his champion stallion Hickstead teamed for a gold medal. At 48, he’s the type of Olympic veteran officials sometimes like to reward with the flag, though he was expected to head home Saturday so may not be an option.
The trampolinist from King City, Ont., won her second straight gold medal _ a rare feat for any Olympian _ but she carried the flag into Maracana two weeks ago so she’s had her turn. Teammate Karen Cockburn also carried the flag at the closing in Beijing eight years ago so trampoline has also had its turn in the sun.
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