Hayley Wickenheiser 'grateful' for chance to be Canadian flagbearer in Sochi
Women’s hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser has been named Canada’s flagbearer for the opening ceremonies at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, saying she is grateful for the chance, while downplaying rising concerns about a terrorist attack during the Games.
Steve Podborski, a former downhill skier and Canada’s Chef de Mission to the Games, made the announcement on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday morning.
Wickenheiser has represented Canada at four winter Olympics, winning a silver medal in 1998, and three consecutive golds in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
She was also a member of Canada’s softball team at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.
“I think to be able to carry the flag for your country is symbolic of the fact that you’re not only representing your country, yourself, your hockey team and the greater (members) of the Canadian Olympic team, you’re also representing every Canadian around the world,” said Wickenheiser, who wasn’t in Ottawa but spoke through a video conference call. “I’m just really proud and grateful for the chance.”
Wickenheiser also acknowledged the ample opportunities that women in Canada have to compete in sport -- not always the case in some countries.
“We are fortunate to live in the best country in the world and as a female hockey player and female athlete, we’re so lucky to have the chance every day to do what we love without prejudice and without so many obstacles that so many people around the world have to go through,” she said. “So to carry that flag is really that symbolism of the pride that we feel.”
Wickenheiser said she wasn’t worried about her safety in Sochi when asked by a reporter about the mounting security concerns at the Games.
“I think the Russian government and the Russian Olympic committee has gone to every length to make it (the Games) safe,” she said, adding that she believes Sochi will be one of the safest places on Earth during the Olympics.
The Olympic committees of at least two countries have already reported receiving threats of terror via email.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said the email is just a “random message” not to be taken seriously.
The Canadian Olympic Committee says the safety of the Canadian Olympic team remains its “main priority” and is working with security forces in Canada as well as collaborating with the Organizing Committee in Sochi to make sure Canadian athletes are safe.
Marcel Aubut, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, focused squarely on the flagbearer announcement on Thursday, calling Wickenheiser one of Canada’s “greatest ambassadors.”
“Hayley is loved by her teammates, respected by her opponents and cherished by all Canadians,” he said in a statement realised to media. “For 20 years, Hayley has been the cornerstone of Canadian women’s hockey and an integral part of the sport’s growth around the world. This is a well-deserved honour.”
Wickenheiser will lead the Canadian Olympic team into The Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi on February 7.