18 Days to Sochi: Should Crosby be flag bearer?

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 12: Canadian flag bearer Clara Hughes leads in the Canadian Olympic team into the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at BC Place on February 12, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Who will be Canada’s flag bearer when Russia welcomes the world with an over-the-top ceremony in 18 days? We’ll find out Thursday, when the Canadian Olympic Committee makes the announcement.

Until then, it’s on us to make our picks and argue.

Luckily, Sportsnet has compiled a list of top candidates for the honour. You can cast your vote below, and if your pick isn’t listed here, feel free to advise us in the comments section.

Things to keep in mind:
A) This honour usually goes to an athlete headed to his or her last Games.
B) Clara Hughes, the six-time Olympic medallist in cycling and speed skating, was the flag bearer in Vancouver, and that’s an awfully tough act to follow because nobody on this list has a bigger smile or more medals.
C) Canada hasn’t picked a male flag bearer for the Winter opening ceremony since Jean-Luc Brassard in 1998, so the COC might be leaning toward a male selection.
D) Some say being flag bearer in the opening ceremony is a distraction that gets in the way of great performances. But Canada’s last three Winter flag bearers—Hughes, Danielle Goyette and Catriona Le May Doan—won bronze, gold and gold medals, respectively. That big flag didn’t seem to be a distraction.

And now, our list of candidates, in alphabetical order:

Alex Bilodeau: Who’s the first Canadian to win Olympic gold on home soil? It’s this guy. Sochi will be the final Games for Bilodeau, again a podium favourite in moguls. The 26-year-old from Montreal was Canada’s golden boy four years ago in Vancouver, where he dedicated his Olympic gold to older brother, Frederic, who has cerebral palsy.

Sidney Crosby: Two words—golden goal. You could easily make the case Crosby shouldn’t be the guy; he makes millions while the amateur athletes at the Olympics sure don’t, and this is their one time to shine. But Crosby’s on the list because he did score the big one four years ago, he’s captain of the team tasked with bringing it home again in Sochi, and this could be the last time we see NHLers at the Olympics.

Charles Hamelin: This short track speed skater was the lone Canadian to win double-gold in Vancouver, and he did it in 30 minutes. Your commute to work is longer than that, and you earn zero medals. You may remember Hamelin, who following his 500 m win shared that iconic hug-and-kiss moment on the rink-side boards with girlfriend and two-time Olympic silver medallist, Marianne St.-Gelais, and then helped the relay team to gold. The 29-year-old owns three medals, and three more—which he’s more than capable of winning in Sochi—would make him the most decorated male Canadian Olympian ever. (Fellow short track skaters Francois-Louis Tremblay and Marc Gagnon share the current record, with five.) “If I’m selected as Canada’s flag bearer, to lead the Canadian team, I will have a huge, huge smile,” Hamelin told Sportsnet recently. “The biggest ever.”

Maelle Ricker: This is the fourth and final Games for Ricker, a snowboarding trailblazer and the reigning Olympic and world championship snowboard cross champion. The 35-year-old from North Vancouver competed in Nagano in 1998 in the first-ever Games to include snowboarding, in halfpipe. Four years after that, injuries kept her out of Salt Lake City. In 2006 in Turin she crashed and finished fourth in snowboard cross. Disappointing, but it set the stage for her performance four years later in Vancouver, where she became the first Canadian woman to win Olympic gold at home.

Haley Wickenheiser: You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger ambassador for the women’s game than No. 22. Wickenheiser helped put women’s hockey on the map, and she’s after a fourth straight Olympic gold at her fifth Games (Canada won silver in Nagano). This is her Olympic swan song, to be sure. What doesn’t work in Wickenheiser’s favour is that Goyette, a former teammate, got the honour in 2006.

There you have it, you’ve heard our picks for the five to consider. Now it’s time to cast your vote.

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