Who should be Canada’s flag-bearer(s) for the Tokyo Olympics?


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It’s almost time to pick Canada’s flag-bearer

At some point over the next couple of weeks, the Canadian Olympic team will announce its flag-bearer — or, most likely, flag-bearers — for the opening ceremony in Tokyo. There’s no shortage of great candidates. And the decision is complicated by myriad other factors like scheduling — swimmers, for instance, have to be in the pool the next day; the women’s soccer team is playing hundreds of miles away in Sapporo. The pandemic adds another potential wrinkle: athletes competing later in the Games might want to delay their arrival in order to shorten their stay. The International Olympic Committee added another twist when it decided to, as part of its “gender parity” initiatives, allow countries to select a woman and a man to share the role in Tokyo on July 23. Several countries have already taken the IOC up on this, and it’s reasonable to assume Canada will follow suit.

For the sake of argument, let’s also pretend that scheduling isn’t a factor and that every athlete on the Canadian team is able and willing to accept the honour. With that premise in mind, here are my top picks for Canada’s flag-bearers, based on these personal criteria: the athletes should be familiar to a lot of Canadians, they should already own at least one Olympic medal, and they should be strong contenders to win more in Tokyo.

Since women are probably going to win the vast majority of Canada’s medals in Tokyo, let’s start with them, followed by the men.

Christine Sinclair: The captain of the Canadian women’s soccer team has scored more goals than anyone (woman or man) in the history of international soccer. She led Canada to bronze medals at the previous two Olympics, and another podium is in reach in Tokyo. At 38 years old, this could be Sinclair’s last Olympic appearance, so the flag-bearer honour would be a fitting and richly deserved send-off. Sinclair carried the maple leaf into the closing ceremony for the 2012 Games in London, where she led the women’s tournament with six goals — including a hat trick in Canada’s epic near-upset of the U.S. in the semis. But that shouldn’t disqualify her from the opening-ceremony role in Tokyo. Simon Whitfield, Adam van Koeverden and Catriona Le May Doan are recent examples of athletes who carried the Canadian flag at a closing ceremony and were chosen to do the honours for the opening ceremony at a subsequent Olympics.

Kylie Masse: If you prefer someone new, Masse’s resumé sparkles. After taking bronze in the 100-metre backstroke at the Rio Olympics, she won back-to-back world titles in 2017 and 2019 and added bronze in the 200 backstroke at the ’19 world championships. The 25-year-old also swims relays, so she has a chance to be Canada’s top medal-winner in Tokyo. The Canadian swimming team as a whole looks strong, particularly on the women’s side, so choosing Masse to carry the flag feels like a good way to signal that to the country.

Andre De Grasse: The 26-year-old sprinter checks all the boxes. He won three medals in Rio, has a shot to pull off a 100/200/4×100 podium triple again in Tokyo, and might be the most recognizable athlete on the Canadian team. De Grasse even achieved a measure of international fame in Rio by going toe-to-toe with Usain Bolt in the Jamaican great’s final Olympics. Choosing your biggest star to carry the flag seems like an easy call. De Grasse, by the way, won his 200m race today at a meet in Hungary.

Damian Warner: The 31-year-old decathlete has been a podium fixture for the better part of a decade. He took bronze in Rio, silver at the 2015 world championships, and bronze at the 2013 and ’19 worlds. Warner should contend for gold in Tokyo. He also just looks like your ideal male Olympian — the guy might actually be carved from marble. Remember that shirtless Tongan flag-bearer? Warner could be the more appropriately dressed, more understated, Canadian version of that.

Honourable mentions: In 2016, trampolinist Rosie MacLennan became the first Canadian ever to win consecutive gold medals in an individual event at the Summer Olympics. She’s got a shot to make it three in a row in Tokyo, but she carried the flag for the opening ceremony in Rio and no one’s ever been given the honour back-to-back. Diver Meaghan Benfeito owns three Olympic bronze medals and will have two more podium chances in Tokyo in the 10m solo and synchronized events. Penny Oleksiak‘s marvellous four-medal performance as a 16-year-old in Rio gets her in the door, but her results since then suggest she might not reach an individual podium in Tokyo. It’s tough to pick her when reigning world champs Kylie Masse and Maggie Mac Neil seem like better swimmers at the moment. Or, if we want to go off the board a bit, how about boxer Mandy Bujold and women’s basketball player Kim Gaucher? They each took on the IOC and struck a blow for working moms on the same day last week. A court granted Bujold’s demand for an Olympic spot after she missed the qualifying window because she was either pregnant or had recently given birth at the time. Gaucher got Olympic organizers to grant breastfeeding moms an exemption to the pandemic-time rule banning athletes’ family and friends from accompanying them to Tokyo. Think of the statement picking Gaucher or Bujold to carry the Canadian flag would make.

Did I miss someone? Who’s your pick for Canadian flag-bearer? Let us know by emailing thebuzzer@cbc.ca.

Anastasia Bucsis sits down with Catriona Le May Doan to discuss what used to be known as the opening ceremony flag bearer curse, and breaking down who’s debunked it. Catriona also gives her prediction on who will carry for Canada in Tokyo. 5:53

Quickly…

The NBA Finals tip off tonight. A rash of injuries to superstar players resulted in an improbable Phoenix Suns vs. Milwaukee Bucks matchup. They’re both good teams, but Phoenix lucked out in not having to face the Lakers’ Anthony Davis for part of the first round and the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard at all in the Western Conference final. Now the Suns are favoured to become one of the unlikeliest NBA champs ever with Milwaukee’s two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo listed as questionable for Game 1 of the Finals with a knee injury. But the Bucks can’t really complain. They probably wouldn’t be here if Brooklyn’s James Harden or Kyrie Irving had stayed healthy for their second-round series, or maybe even if Atlanta’s Trae Young hadn’t hurt his foot during the Eastern final. On the positive side, it will be great to watch Phoenix’s Chris Paul play in the Finals for the first time. He’s one of the best point guards of all time, and he’s immediately improved every team he’s joined. Winning a ring would silence the last shred of an (ill-informed) argument against his greatness. With young standouts Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton at his side, there’s a good chance Paul finally does it.

Two big soccer tournaments are reaching their conclusion. The semifinals of the men’s European Championship kicked off today at London’s Wembley Stadium with Italy facing Spain (the match was in progress at our publish time). Tomorrow’s semi is a battle of sentimental favourites. England hasn’t won a major men’s soccer title since its World Cup victory in 1966, while upstart Denmark has overcome the trauma of seeing teammate Christian Eriksen nearly die on the field in their tournament opener. The final, also at Wembley, is on Sunday. The South American championship, Copa America, will be decided Saturday. Defending champ Brazil reached the final last night with a 1-0 win over Peru. They’ll face the winner of tonight’s match between Argentina and Columbia.

The Habs are still alive. With his team a shot away from becoming the first in 23 years to get swept in the Stanley Cup final, Josh Anderson scored his second goal of the game in overtime to give Montreal a 3-2 win last night over Tampa Bay. The Canadiens showed again that they’ll fight to the last bullet, but they’re still in a very tough spot. In order to complete only the second comeback from down 3-0 in the Cup final, they’ll need to beat this superior Lightning team three more times in a row — including two on the road. The betting markets are not bullish on the Habs’ chances: they give them an implied chance of about 7 per cent to complete the comeback. Game 5 is Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET in Tampa Bay. Read more about Montreal’s gutsy Game 4 OT win here.

And finally…

Bruce Springsteen’s daughter made the U.S. Olympic team. Excuse the strained Boss reference, but you might say Jessica Springsteen was born to… ride horses. The 29-year-old equestrian is ranked third in the U.S., and today she was one of four riders named to the American team for Tokyo. Springsteen was an alternate for the 2012 Games, but she should make her Olympic competition debut this time. Read more about her being named to the U.S team here.

You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.

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