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Monday, August 14, 2000
COA to unveil Olympic flagbearer on Tuesday

By NEIL DAVIDSON -- Canadian Press

 It sounds simple -- choose an athlete to carry the Maple Leaf and lead the Canadian team into the opening or closing ceremonies of multisports events such as the Olympics.

 But the exercise has proved awkward in past years, for a variety of reasons.

 In 1998, freestyle skier Jean-Luc Brassard found himself the target of Don Cherry after complaining that the distraction of carrying the flag so near to his event had contributed to a subpar Olympic performance.

 Cherry, who suggested Brassard was named flagbearer because he was French-Canadian, later received a slap on the wrist from the Quebec Press Council for his criticism.

 Cherry had also suggested no one had ever heard of freestyle skiing or Brassard, who was world moguls champion at the time.

 Later that year, the Toronto news conference to name Fredericton swimmer Marianne Limpert the flagbearer for the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur became a political hot potato when the news conference was conducted in English only.

 Limpert did her bit by answering questions in both official languages but the Commonwealth Games Association of Canada later apologized for the oversight.

 There was more of the same in Nagano -- where Wayne Gretzky had been a sentimental favourite of many to hoist the Maple Leaf -- when Brassard was introduced as flagbearer. But this time the controversy was over an English-only video in which fans and celebrities sent best wishes to the Canadian Olympians.

 At the end of the Nagano Games, long-track speed skater Catriona Le May Doan was chosen to carry the flag for the closing ceremonies.

 Unfortunately the Canadian Olympic Association lost her for the news conference at which the announcement was made.

 It was later explained that she had to go to a meeting after dropping her husband at the train station. The news conference went on without her.

 The Canadian Olympic Association is scheduled to unveil the flagbearer for Sydney on Tuesday in Montreal, with kayaker Caroline Brunet one of the favourites.

 Some have talked of a flagbearer jinx for those carrying the flag at the opening ceremonies.

 Brassard, for example, finished fourth in Nagano after winning the gold four years earlier in Norway.

 In 1980, downhill skier Ken Reid carried the flag in Lake Placid. But he left the starting gate on one ski and didn't finish the race.

 In 1992 in Albertville, France, short-track speed skater Syvlie Daigle was flagbearer. Daigle, the world sprint champion, later fell in a race.

 In 1992 in Barcelona, decathlete Michael Smith carried the flag. He later pulled a hamstring.

 In 1994 in Hamar, Norway, Kurt Browning carried the flag. Days later the four-time world champion finished fifth.

 But swimmer Alex Baumann won gold after carrying the flag at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. And 1,500-metre runner Angela Chalmers bore the Canadian colours and won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria that year.

 It's not just Canadians who keep a close eye on flagbearers.

 In Auckland, New Zealand, at the 1990 Commonwealth Games, Australian swimmer Janelle Elford sparked headlines when she marched alongside Aussie flagbearer Lisa Curry in a one-piece green swimsuit, silk-and-chiffon cape and high heels.

 Elford ignored the raised eyebrows.

 "Everyone in Australia has a swimsuit," she said.

 Some, like Baumann, became veteran flag-wavers. In addition to carrying the flag at the opening of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Baumann was flagbearer at the conclusion of the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Australia and at the world university games in 1983 in Edmonton.

 Most recently, at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, home-town cyclist Tanya Dubnicoff carried the flag at the opening of the Games while equestrian Ian Millar took it over for the finale.

 In 1996 at the Olympics in Atlanta, veteran sprinter Charmaine Crooks handled the opening ceremonies while rowers Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle combined at the closing ceremonies.
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