Calgarian Ben Churchill has been selected to be the flag bearer for Canada at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway.

"It was a surprise, it wasn't a complete surprise. I did have to go through an application process, but I definitely didn't expect to be selected," he said.

"I was absolutely thrilled, over the moon, when I heard."

The 17-year-old biathlete has been competing for just over six years, coming a long way from the day his mom told him she'd signed him up for the sport. 

ben churchill winter youth olympics biathlete flag bearer

Calgary-based biathlete Ben Churchill will be the flag bearer for Canada as the Winter Youth Olympic Games get underway in Lillehammer, Norway, on Feb. 12. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

"I said 'what's that?' She said, 'oh, well it's shooting guns and skiing,' and I said 'okay, you had me at guns.'"

It's only been since 2013 when he started to take things seriously and dropped piano, karate and squash to focus on the sport. 

"Gradually, as I've committed more and more time to biathlon, I've had to drop those various different things and then kind of split my life between family, academics and biathlon," he said. 

"And I'm very content as it is. I think I've found a good balance between the three of those."

Biathlon gaining in popularity 

He says it's an exciting time to be involved in the sport in Canada, with growing interest, a world cup event in Canmore this week and fellow Calgarian Nathan Smith mounting international podiums. 

Like most young athletes, he has his eyes set on the real Olympics, but isn't getting ahead of himself quite yet, saying biathlon is a "very late-maturing sport" where you don't hit your peak until about 27 or 29.

"I don't want to handicap myself for the future by not getting a head start on my post-secondary education, but at the same time, biathlon is something that I derive a lot of joy from and it's something that I want to pursue at higher and higher levels. So absolutely, the winter Olympics are still a guiding goal and vision."

As for his responsibilities beyond carrying the maple leaf during the opening ceremonies on Feb. 12, Churchill just has to hold up to some media scrutiny and be himself. 

"I'm happy with how I am normally as a representation of Canada," he said. 

The Winter Youth Olympics run from February 12 to 21 and feature competitors from 71 countries.