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Hayley Wickenheiser chosen to carry Canada’s flag at Sochi

Chris Zelkovich
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Hayley Wickenheiser. (Getty Images)

Although the naming of Canada's flag bearer for the Sochi Games won't entirely stop the national debate on the issue, it's pretty hard to argue that the Canadian Olympic Committee made the wrong choice.

There's no denying that Hayley Wickenheiser has the credentials to carry the Maple Leaf when the Games open next month.

The Shaunavon, Sask., native is the face of women's hockey in this country and will be making her fifth appearance at the Olympics. She has been a dominant force in women's hockey for more than a decade and has won three golds and a silver.

She is the first woman to score a goal in professional hockey, accomplishing that feat in Finland in 2003. One of the top athletes in Canadian history, she also played on the Canadian softball team at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

She has an impressive list of Olympic credits. At the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Wickenheiser became the all-time leading Olympic goal scorer in a win over Sweden.

"I couldn't be prouder to represent Canada," the 35-year-old athlete said by video hookup. Asked what her initial reaction was to hearing she had been chosen, Wickenheiser said she thought it was a joke.

She was chosen from a pretty impressive field, any of whom would have been worthy flag bearers. Others receiving consideration were speed skater Charles Hamelin, alpine skier Erik Guay, freestyle skier Alexandre Bilodeau, hockey star Sidney Crosby and snowboarder Jasey-Jay Anderson.

The selection of which athlete gets to carry the flag in the Opening Ceremony has often been a flashpoint for Canadians. There's been such a long history of national hand-wringing and controversy over the ceremonial role it might replace hockey as our national sport.

During the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, 'Hockey Night In Canada's' Don Cherry (surprise!) reacted to a Bloc Quebecois complaint about too many Canadian flags at the Olympic village by turning on flag-bearer Jean-Luc Brassard. "They don't like the Canadian flag," he thundered. "You know it's funny, they don't want the Canadian flag but they want our money.

"Then we pick a French guy, some ski guy that nobody knows about."

Brassard brought some criticism on himself shortly afterward by suggesting that carrying the flag may have affected his performance.

In Athens in 2004, controversy raged when it disclosed that flag-bearer Nicolas Gill had once been a separatist.

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