Brunet's selection an easy choice
By CHRIS STEVENSON -- SLAM! Sports
MONTREAL - When it comes to the Olympics and flagbearers, Canada has often managed to leave the Maple Leaf flying at half mast.
Controversies over the amount of French spoken at the press conference, athletes complaining about it being a distraction...the honour of carrying Canada's flag into the Olympic Stadium and the flap around it has seemed to be more trouble than it's worth at times.
But the selection of kayaker Caroline Brunet Tuesday to carry Canada's colours at the opening ceremonies in Sydney, the result of a new selection system, attention to the use of both official languages at the press conference and new timing for the announcement, seems to have avoided the previous pitfalls.
"I've got no problem accepting the honour of being the flagbearer," said Brunet by satellite from Brisbane, Australia, where she is training for the Games, which open in a month.
"It'll be a positive experience. I only feel the pressure I put on myself and that's more than enough. I feel this will be a great source of motivation in my training. It's a little extra thing that will help me get through this hard training period."
The flagbearer announcement used to be made on the eve of the Games, often subjecting the chosen athlete to a barrage of attention at a time when the focus needed to be on preparing for their event.
At the Nagano Winter Games, freestyle skier Jean-Luc Brassard, partially blamed the distraction of the flagbearing duties for his failure to win a medal after winning gold in the previous Games.
"There will be a lot less at hype (at the Sydney Games) because the (flagbearer) story will have gotten old by then," said Diane Jones-Konihowski, Canada's chef-de-mission for the Sydney Olympics.
"If we had delayed (the announcement), (Brunet) might not have accepted it because she's an athlete striving for gold."
In Nagano, there was controversy at the press conference announcing Brassard's selection because of the showing of an English-only video. An English-only press conference for the flagbearer at the '98 Commonwealth Games also caused grief for bureaucrats.
Tuesday's press conference, if anything, tilted towards the French language as it was held at the downtown Roots store.
"I felt everything was perfect," said secretary of state/amateur sport Denis Corderre. "It was perfect. Caroline is a tremendous athlete and a great choice. She's a great Canadian. Everybody knows the frustrations we have had in the past selecting (the flagbearer). It was just a matter of communication. Now everybody is in the same boat."
The flagbearer announcement followed a fashion show which had some of the 28 Olympians on hand model the Canadian clothesmaker's creations for the Sydney Games from a bucket hat to platinum-coloured pants to the so-called "podium jersey" which looked pretty much like a hockey sweater with the COA's logo on the front.
There's a pretty good chance Brunet will get a chance to wear that podium jersey, the flagbearer's curse notwithstanding.
Brunet, the reigning world champion and a silver medalist in 1996 in Atlanta, is the favourite to win the K-1 500-metre event and along with Karen Furneaux of Waverley, N.S., has a shot at another gold in the K-2 500-metre event.
Brunet moved to Brisbane because she has had had problems with jet lag in the past and wanted to make sure she was completely adjusted to the weather and time change by the time the Games roll around.
"I think she's a great candidate," said diver Anne Montminy. "She's a phenomenal athlete, bilingual and speaks well. I think she's a great choice."
So far, so good.
It looks like the waters, rippled by the waving of the flag in the past, are smooth in front of Brunet.