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Friday, July 28, 2000

Expect controversy when flag-bearer named
  In about two weeks at the Roots store in Montreal, the Canadian Olympic Association will announce the team's flag-bearer for the Sydney Games.

  On the surface, it promises to be one of those happy, feel-good events with a lot of smiling people shaking hands and saying nice things and handing out pins and all that stuff.

  But this is what really will happen: Some COA flack will announce the flag-bearer, everyone will applaud, the selectee will make a heart-warming speech, in both official languages, about how great an honour it is, blah, blah, everyone will applaud again, and then various COA officials will run for cover. Because, at that stage, the media will be working itself into a frenzy.

  If the athlete chosen is anglophone, the francophone media will go nuts, decrying the selection as being insensitive to Quebecers and yet another example of how the Toronto-controlled COA is biased.

  If it's a francophone athlete picked, likely kayak star Caroline Brunet, the anglo media (read Toronto) will write long-winded columns about how the selection is yet another example of the French-controlled COA going for the politically correct decision -- a Quebecer, a female, the perfect choice for Ottawa bureaucrats, while making fun of the athlete for being a star in an event nobody cares about. That's precisely what happened when moguls skier Jean-Luc Brassard was chosen over figure skater Elvis Stojko at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

  Whatever the case, the selection promises to stir up controversy and debate which, in a sense, is a good thing given that Olympic-sport athletes virtually are ignored save for the few weeks leading up to a Games.

  Here are the favourites to carry Canada's flag on Sept.15, and The Toronto Sun's odds of them being selected:

  - Caroline Brunet, kayaker, 2-1.

  Pros: Multiple world champion and probably Canada's best shot in Sydney for a gold, or two; francophone, female; former Canadian athlete of the year; photogenic; bilingual.

  Cons: Outside of small circle of kayak enthusiasts, not many have heard of her; opinionated, liable to give the COA or the feds a piece of her mind if asked to make a speech.

  - Donovan Bailey, sprinter, 4-1.

  Pros: Most celebrated Canadian athlete at the 1996 Games; probably best known Canadian athlete in world outside of North America.

  Cons: Can be a bit of pistol, and will say controversial things -- just ask organizers of that One-On-One race at the SkyDome; past two Summer Games flag-bearers were from track and field.

  - Daniel Igali, freestyle wrestler, 5-1.

  Pros: Immensely proud, new Canadian; historic accomplishment last year, first person to win world amateur wrestling title; trilingual.

  Cons: Second and third languages Ijaw and Pidgeon, not French; hasn't been on national scene for very long; is friendly with sports writers, which horrifies COA officials.

  - Bruny Surin, sprinter, 8-1.

  Pros: Athletically deserving; has been overlooked far too long, first ran in the shadow of Ben Johnson, then Donovan Bailey, but is a two-time world indoor champion; a great charity guy; a key member of the relay team; most importantly, a really nice person; bilingual.

  Cons: Hasn't won the big one in the 100 metres at the Olympics or worlds.

  - Alison Sydor, cyclist, 10-1.

  Pros: Three-time world champion; defending Olympic silver medallist; multiple World Cup winner; incredibly gutsy; great role model.

  Cons: Last flag-bearer was a woman from Vancouver (Charmaine Crooks) and lightning rarely strikes twice with this kind of thing.

  - Mike Strange, boxer, 12-1.

  Pros: Third Olympics; has won medals at every level; can order beer in both official languages; not punchy (yet).

  Cons: Boxing isn't considered a politically correct sport with the mucky-mucks at the COA; neither is owning a bar; the knock against Strange, though not from this corner, is that he is a boxer who owns a bar.

  - Marnie McBean, rower, 20-1.

  Pros: One of the most celebrated Canadian athletes in Olympic history; great speaker; nice person.

  Cons: Carried the flag at the closing ceremony in Atlanta, which essentially disqualifies her; an activist for athletes' rights and has put the COA's nose out of joint in the past.

  - Joanne Malar, swimmer, 25-1.

  Pros: Top-ranked swimmer for years; photogenic; says all the right things at exactly the right time.

  Cons: Heritage Minister Sheila Copps is also from Hamilton.