Hughes gets official nod as flag-bearer

“It’s going to give me inspiration"

By BOB MACKIN, QMI Agency


Speedskater Clara Hughes was introduced as the opening ceremony flag-bearer for Canada. (Carmine Marinelli/QMI)

RICHMOND, B.C.- The Canadian Olympic Committee is going to extremes with its Paint the Town Red campaign.

On Friday it named red-headed, wide-smiled speedskater Clara Hughes to carry the maple leaf flag and lead Canada’s Olympic team into B.C. Place Stadium for the Feb. 12 opening ceremony of the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Winnipeg-born Hughes said it will be the greatest honour of her athletic career. The 37-year-old didn’t think twice about accepting the honour because it was a longtime dream, despite turning down the opportunity before the 2006 Games in Turin.

“This is my last Olympics, I really felt I didn’t have a choice,” Hughes said. “This is something I thought for a few years I might be asked.”

Hughes won two bronze medals in road cycling at the Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympics. Mere months after cycling in the 2000 Sydney Games, she joined the national speedskating team and won bronze in 5,000 metres at the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Games. That made her the first Canadian and only fourth athlete in Olympic history to win medals at both winter and summer Games.

She also won 5,000 m gold and team pursuit silver in 2006 at Turin where she donated $10,000 of her prize money to the sports charity Right to Play.

Canada will be the last nation to march into the Olympic stadium. Hughes said she considers it her “first race of the Olympics.” The first women’s speedskating event of the Games is Feb. 14 at the Richmond Olympic Oval, the showcase venue of the 2010 Games.

“I don’t feel any pressure on my performance,” she said. “It’s going to give me an inspiration I’ve never felt before.”

The pressure is on Hughes, however, to continue a tradition of success. Four of the five women who have carried the flag for Canada at Winter Games’ opening ceremonies eventually won gold. Figure skater Karen Magnussen won silver.

Canada is entering 206 athletes -- including 112 Olympic rookies -- in the Vancouver Games with the goal of winning the most medals. Joining Hughes as a five-time Olympian will be hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser and bobsledder Pierre Lueders.

The announcement of Hughes was no surprise after it was leaked online earlier Friday. Speed Skating Canada coach Ingrid Paul denied her Twitter posting in Dutch spoiled the secret. Paul said she was repeating what she read in a newspaper online.

POLL