OTTAWA — Not since Kurt Browning at the 1994 Lillehammer Games has a figure skater carried the Canadian flag into an opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.
Next month, there will be not one, but two skaters — ice dance darlings Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir — leading the way with the red-and-white Maple Leaf as Canada’s Olympic team begins its medal quest at the Pyeongchang Games in South Korea.
The eight-time national champions and three-time world champions were introduced Tuesday at a news conference in Ottawa where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was beaming as he made the announcement.
Being given the honour of carrying the flag made coming out of retirement a couple years ago for the Games the best decision ever, even before lacing up to compete, said Virtue.
“It’s a good thing we decided to come back and it is certainly incredibly rewarding,” she said. “I mean it doesn’t get any better than this.”
OH CANADA! What an incredible honour. Thank you for the extraordinary opportunity to carry the flag into the Opening Ceremony at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang. We hope to make you proud. pic.twitter.com/PT2znkj62h
— Tessa Virtue (@tessavirtue) January 16, 2018
Their entrance in Pyeongchang on Feb. 9 will mark the first time a Canadian duo carries the flag into an opening ceremony.
“The honour of carrying the Canadian flag … brings with it a sense of duty, privilege, and above all, great pride,” Virtue said.
Virtue, 28, and Moir, 30, made their Olympic debut eight years ago on home ice in Vancouver, where they captured a gold medal and became household names. They won ice dance silver four years ago in Sochi and added another silver in the team event.
The duo then took two years off before deciding to make one more run for Olympic gold. They say they will retire after the Games in Pyeongchang.
Carrying the flag into the opening ceremony will put some pressure on the duo to perform to their highest ability, said Moir.
“But we like that,” he told reporters. “We always say that we see that pressure as moral support because we put as much pressure on ourselves as we can and we’re going to be ready for the opportunity.”
Their biggest challenge for gold will come from French couple Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who edged the Canadians at the Grand Prix Final in December.
Hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser carried the Canadian flag at the opening ceremony in 2014 while decorated speedskater Clara Hughes had the honour at the Vancouver Games.
“In accepting this unparalleled honour, we commit to embodying the values and the standards that make Canada such a special place and we vow to embrace the Olympic spirit in its purest form,” Moir said. “Team Canada is ready and we cannot wait to be in Pyeongchang with the Maple Leafs on our backs and in our hearts.”