Opinion | Canada names Poulin, Hamelin as flag-bearers at Beijing Olympics; argues against boycotting opening ceremony

BEIJING It was a hard secret for Marie-Philip Poulin and Charles Hamelin to keep.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist in women’s hockey and three-time Olympic champion in short-track speedskating had known for the past fortnight that they would be Canada’s flag-bearers at Friday’s opening ceremony of the Beijing Games.

But they apparently both kept their lips sealed – although their grins were widening – until mission chef Catriona Le May Doan made the formal reveal at a news conference Wednesday.

“For myself, it was a little bit difficult,” Poulin admitted, of keeping her teammates out of the scoop loop. “As a group, we are pretty close, we tell each other everything basically. As the days were getting closer to this particular moment, the smile was getting a little bit bigger. And once I got to tell them, to see their reaction, it makes you appreciate them a lot more. ”

Following a team meeting, the announcement was made internally. The women erupted in a group jump for joy. “We had a big hug.”

Hamelin made the disclosure to his track squad a couple of days ago. “It was pretty tough for me too,” keeping his selection under wraps for that long. “People on my team were discussing it: ‘Eh, who do you think it’s going to be?’ I was, like, ‘It could be anyone, maybe it’s you.’ I was avoiding the question. ”

They’d texted each other, Hamelin and Poulin. Assuring mutual silence. “OK, I’m not the only one that’s struggling,” Hamelin told Poulin.

The two venerable Olympians had been informed by Le May Doan via video conference calls on Jan. 23. Le May Doan had herself done flag duty twice – carrying it at the closing ceremony in Nagano in 1998 and the opening ceremony of Salt Lake City in 2002.

“Being named flag-bearer continues to be one of my most cherished and proud Olympic moments,” Le May Doan recalled, casting her mind back particularly to Salt Lake City. “I remember walking into that stadium, it was five months after 9/11. There was a lot of things that we’d overcome in 2002. ”

Twenty years ago this week. “It’s hard to believe. It still brings me chills. ”

Speedskater Charles Hamelin and hockey player Marie-Philip Poulin hold up the Canadian flag after being named as flag-bearers at the news conference Wednesday for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Hamelin and Poulin are each fine choices in what can be a fraught business for the Canadian Olympic Committee, trying to balance out geographical and cultural considerations. Both Hamelin and Poulin, however, are francophones from Quebec. Doubtless somebody will grumble about that.

“It’s quite special, it’s an honor,” said Poulin, 30, from Beauceville. “It reminds me of my first Olympics in Vancouver, walking in behind Clara Hughes, and seeing her with that smile, carrying the flag. So much pride, it’s unbelievable. ”

Hamelin, meanwhile, modestly claimed surprise, though he was certainly odds-on favorite.

“It’s difficult to dream of being a flag-bearer. For me, just to be here is a surprise. I never said to myself, one day I want to be the flag-bearer for Canada. But to be here is the greatest honor of all. And to see all the young kids and being one of the leaders of the team, I take my role seriously. ”

Poulin, veteran of the heavily decorated women’s hockey squad, has three Olympic medals in the trophy chest, gold from Vancouver and Sochi, silver from Pyeongchang in 2018, where the Canadians were bested by perpetual rival US At her Games debut in Vancouver, Poulin led the team to triumph as the lone goal scorer in a 2-0 dispatch of the Americans. In Sochi four years later, her goal with 55 seconds left in regulation sent the match into OT, where she turned the lamp red again, securing Canada’s fourth consecutive Olympic championship.

Hamelin, eminence grise of the short-track platoon, is here competing in his fifth Games, tying the all-time participation in his sport. Another medal – No. 6 – would make the 37-year-old from Sainte-Julie Canada’s most medal-invested male Olympian ever.

Before their anointment, neither had given a moment’s thought to possibly boycott the opening ceremony, which has been urged upon athletes by some activists, as a gesture against the Chinese regime, which has been assailed for human rights violations, mass detention of Uyghurs, the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, repression in Tibet, take your pick.

“This brings people together and that’s something I really value,” countered Poulin.

Said Hamelin: “For us to have the honor to march in the opening ceremonies, as all the athletes would do, is something unique. It’s something we look forward to for four years. It’s like a little gift that people give us. In my mind, if you have a chance to do it, you have to do it. ”

Le May Doan made an elegant argument for participating in the Parade of Nations.

“I was at four opening ceremonies when I was an athlete. You understand the power of the ring and the power of the flame and the power of wearing the maple leaf and carrying the maple leaf. ”

Rosie DiManno is a Toronto-based columnist covering sports and current affairs for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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