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Monday, August 14, 2000
Avoiding Olympic flag flap

Millar deserves consideration for flag-bearer at the Sydney Games

By BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

  When the Canadian Olympic Association announces which athlete will carry the Maple Leaf in the opening ceremonies of the Games in Sydney, expect to hear kayaker Caroline Brunet's name.

 After all, the announcement is being held in Montreal tomorrow and Brunet is a safe choice.

 It's politically correct: Brunet is from Quebec. She's bilingual. She's a woman.

 And, she could win a couple of gold medals for the Great White North in the Land Down Under.

 Because the announcement is being made in Montreal leads to the conclusion that the choice will be Brunet. The Quebec media would condemn any other choice as a slight against the province -- a situation the COA wants to avoid.

 Language games

 But the French press do have a point. You won't find a French name on the list of Canadian pennant carriers at the Summer Games since 1912.

 The Winter Games are a different story where Quebec has had its fair share of flag-bearers (Jean-Luc Brassard, Myriam Bedard, Gaetan Boucher).

 These selections are never easy. Brassard's nomination over Elvis Stojko at Nagano in 1998 was done in the name of political correctness, and it backfired badly.

 Brassard choked under the pressure and left Japan without a medal in the freestyle skiing competition. Later, he said carrying the flag was an unwanted distraction.

 Canada's choice for Australia is difficult because there are many worthy candidates, and Brunet leads the pack.

 Some others being considered are: Joanne Malar, Bruny Surin, Donovan Bailey, Alison Sydor, Marnie McBean and Marianne Limpert.

 But what about Ian Millar?

 Hopefully, the COA has the 53-year-old show jumper from Perth on its list of finalists. At the very least, he deserves the consideration.

 Millar would be a fine choice.

 The Sydney Games will be his seventh Olympics. He has been to every summer Olympic competition since 1972 in Munich, except for 1980 in Moscow which he would have attended if not for the boycott.

 Despite the low profile of his sport, Millar manages to maintain a significant celebrity across the country. He isn't as well known as Bailey, Surin, or McBean, but more Canadians would recognize him over Brunet, Malar, Sydor or Limpert.

 He is a tireless promoter of show jumping, and always finds the time to chat with fans and sign autographs at equestrian shows -- despite a hectic schedule.

 In the show ring, Millar has brought honour to Canada with spectacular performances all over the world.

 At last summer's Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, Millar won the individual goal medal during the final day of competition. In the evening, he carried the Maple Leaf into Winnipeg Stadium.

 It was a spectacular scene.

 Legendary rider

 He and Big Ben, his beloved horse who died last December, won back-to-back World Cup titles in the '80s. They're the only horse and rider combination to accomplish the feat.

 Last year, before Ben passed away, their images were put on a Canada Post stamp.

 They were made honorary members of the RCMP Musical Ride.

 You can't get much more Canadian than that.

 The Sydney Olympics might not be Millar's last. He said last month that he'll continue to compete as long as he enjoys what he's doing.

 But there's no guarantee he'll be part of the Canadian team at the 2004 Games in Athens.

 The COA should give Millar the honour of carrying the flag.

 He's be an ideal candidate, if not for the fact he'd need to master the French language in a day.
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