Olympics Summer

Van Koeverden named Canada's flag-bearer

Adam van Koeverden, the reigning Olympic and world champion in the 500-metre kayak singles, was chosen Wednesday as Canada's flag-bearer for the Beijing Olympics.

Adam van Koeverden, the reigning Olympic and world champion in the 500-metre kayak singles, was chosen Wednesday as Canada's flag-bearer for the Beijing Olympics.

The Oakville, Ont., native will lead the 331-member Canadian team — also officially unveiled Wednesday — into Beijing's National Stadium for the opening ceremony on Aug. 8.

"I don't like to say that I'm leading," a relaxed van Koeverden told reporters at a media gathering inside a downtown Toronto hotel. "I just get to be the first guy to walk in, and then there's 331 incredible athletes behind me."

In winning the honour from the Canadian Olympic Committee, van Koeverden beat out a list of candidates that included Olympic medal-winning diver Alexandre Despatie, nine-time Olympian equestrian rider Ian Millar, and gymnast Kyle Shewfelt, who recovered from two broken legs to make the team for Beijing.

Van Koeverden follows in the footsteps of Danielle Goyette — the women's hockey player who carried the Canadian flag at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics — and judoka Nicolas Gill, who got the nod for the 2004 Athens Summer Games.

"I think it was an excellent choice. [Van Koeverden] definitely would've been my No. 1 pick," two-time Olympic trampoline medallist Karen Cockburn, herself a finalist for the flag-bearer job, told CBCSports.ca. "Just based on his athletic achievement and what he's been doing this season, I don't really think anyone would be quite at that level. And I think he's a great guy."

A great hope for gold

The job of toting the Maple Leaf typically goes to a recognizable, respected and successful athlete, and the 26-year-old van Koeverden fits the bill in all three areas.

After winning gold in the K-1 500 and bronze in the K-1 1000 in Athens, van Koeverden was named Canada's flag-bearer for the closing ceremony. He later received the Lou Marsh Award as the top Canadian athlete of 2004 as voted by the country's sports journalists.

Van Koeverden is also one of Canada's best hopes for Olympic gold in Beijing, having won the K-1 500 at last summer's world championships while taking silver in the K-1 1000. He has shown top form this summer as well, winning five of six World Cup races in the K-1 500, including a world-record performance in a race in Poland.

"He thrives on working hard," Scott Oldershaw, van Koeverden's coach, told CBC Newsworld. "He tolerates a lot of pain and discomfort. He knows the races are going to hurt him.

"He says almost every race, he doesn't know if he can finish or not. That's how hard he pushed himself."

'A god in his sport'

The five-foot-11, 190-pound van Koeverden was also a popular choice for flag-bearer among CBCSports.ca's athlete bloggers in an informal poll taken prior to Wednesday's selection.

"He is a god in his sport; he's clean, fantastically intelligent and he probably has the arm strength to carry that blasted flag for hours," said fencer Sherraine Schalm, a third-time Olympian.

In recent years, some medal hopefuls have shied away from carrying the Canadian flag, worrying that the attendant media obligations and lengthy opening ceremony may distract them from their competitive duties or even tempt misfortune.

The notion of a flag-bearer's "curse" gained steam in the 1990s after decathlete Michael Smith (1992 Barcelona) was forced to withdraw with a hamstring injury, and figure skater Kurt Browning (1994 Lillehammer) finished a disappointing fifth. Charmaine Crooks (1996 Atlanta) ran to a disappointing 18th-place showing in the 800 metres, and moguls skier Jean-Luc Brassard (1998 Nagano) ended up fourth.

'Curse' exorcised?

Since then, however, the superstition has proven to be just that, as three out of four Canadian flag-bearers have reached the Olympic podium.

Kayaker Caroline Brunet (2000 Sydney) captured silver, while speedskater Catriona Le May Doan (2002 Salt Lake City) and Goyette won gold, leaving Gill as the only disappointment after he was bounced in the first round in Athens.

The more successful recent showings didn't appear to ease concerns before the Torino Games. Bobsledder Pierre Lueders, cross-country skier Beckie Scott, and speedskaters Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen all asked their respective sport federations not to nominate them to carry the Canadian banner.

This year, Shewfelt — tabbed by van Koeverden himself as the most deserving to carry the flag — made it known that he would decline the opportunity because the gymnastics program begins the day after the opening ceremony in Beijing.

Not feeling weight of expectation

Van Koeverden, who doesn't compete until the K-1 1,000 heats on Aug. 18 (Day 10), responded tongue in cheek Wednesday when asked if carrying the flag would place an unwanted weight on his broad shoulders.

"All I have to do is walk and carry a flag, right?" he joked to reporters, before adding the required amount of gravitas. "But, absolutely, I feel a sense of responsibility to the Canadian public to be a good ambassador for Canada, and also for the other 331 Canadian athletes."

Peter Giles, the Canadian team's assistant chef de mission and a former kayaker who competed at the 1996 Atlanta Games, said van Koeverden should have plenty of time to collect himself after his duties at the opening ceremony.

"It's a little tiring, but if you plan your training so you don't have to train the next day, you'll be fine," Giles told CBCSports.ca.

"I think Adam's history shows that he comes up big at the biggest moments."