Summer Sports·The Buzzer

Canada's flag-bearers aren't famous, but they're deserving

CBC Sports' daily Olympic newsletter introduces you to the two athletes who will lead the Canadian team into the opening ceremony on Friday, and explains why some better-known stars weren't chosen.

Miranda Ayim and Nathan Hirayama will share the role in Tokyo

Miranda Ayim, pictured in 2016, is hoping to help the Canadian women's basketball team win its first Olympic medal in what's likely to be her final tournament. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports' daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening at the Tokyo Olympics by subscribing here.

Quick note before we get started: Beginning today through the closing ceremony on Aug. 8, The Buzzer will be devoted exclusively to the Tokyo Olympics. Seven days a week, you'll get news, insight and analysis on the biggest stories from the Games, as well as tips on who and what to watch to help guide your TV and live-stream viewing. Read more about our plans here. For all your non-Olympic sports news, including the latest from a busy NHL off-season, visit OK, on to the Olympic news:

Canada revealed its flag-bearers for the opening ceremony

In the past, each country typically selected one athlete to carry its flag into the stadium for the Parade of Nations portion of the Olympic opening ceremony. But, as part of its "gender parity" initiatives, the International Olympic Committee recently amended its guidelines to encourage countries to choose a man and a woman to share the role in Tokyo.

Canada's flag-bearers, announced this morning by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, are basketball player Miranda Ayim and rugby sevens player Nathan Hirayama.

Ayim, 33, is set to compete in her third and probably final Olympics. The 6-foot-3 forward from London, Ont., plans to retire after Tokyo, where the fourth-ranked Canadian women's team has a shot to win its first Olympic medal. Ayim played three games in the WNBA in 2011, spending the rest of her pro career overseas. She played the last few seasons for Basket Landes of the French league, helping them to the championship this year by averaging 11 points per game in her farewell season. Basket Landes will retire her number in a ceremony this September. Ayim and the Canadian team play their first Olympic game next Monday at 4:20 a.m. ET vs. Serbia.

Hirayama, also 33 years old, is from Richmond, B.C. He's played for the Canadian men's rugby sevens team since he was 18, and has appeared in more matches and scored more tries than any Canadian in the 22-year history of the World Rugby Sevens Series. The Canadian men's team, which finished eighth in the Sevens Series standings last year, didn't qualify for the Olympic debut of rugby sevens in 2016, so this will be Hirayama's first Olympic appearance. He's competed in three Commonwealth Games and three Pan Am Games. The Canadian men play their first match on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET vs. Great Britain, the silver medallist at the Rio Olympics.

This won't be the first time two athletes have carried the Canadian flag at an Olympic ceremony. Ice dance icons Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir did it for the opener in Pyeongchang in 2018, while bobsleigh teammates Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse, figure skating duo Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, and rowing pair Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle have shared the honour for a closing ceremony after winning gold.

The selection of Hirayama and Ayim came as a surprise to most Canadians. That's not to take anything away from them — by all accounts, they're wonderful people who work hard, play at a high level and have earned their long careers. They deserve this, and they'll be excellent representatives for their country at the opening ceremony. As Trudeau said: "Miranda and Nathan are leaders on their respective teams. They embody the resilience, perseverance and excellence of Team Canada."

It's just that there appeared to be several more famous, and arguably more accomplished, options. To name a few: women's soccer team captain Christine Sinclair is the all-time leading goal scorer in international soccer and already owns two Olympic medals; 2016 decathlon bronze medallist Damian Warner is a gold-medal contender in Tokyo; and sprinter Andre De Grasse and swimmer Penny Oleksiak won a combined seven medals in Rio. A good portion of the country knows those names.

But choosing flag-bearers for the opening ceremony is as much about finding athletes who are willing and available to do the job as it is picking the best resumés. Sinclair, for example, is playing 800 kilometres away, in Sapporo, for her first two matches. Swimmers are in the pool the day after the opening ceremony. And the Tokyo Games present even more scheduling conflicts than normal. Athletes have been asked to arrive no earlier than five days before their events — all but ruling out anyone in track and field, which begins a week after the ceremony. It's also fair to wonder whether some athletes may have declined an offer because they're not comfortable attending such a large event during a pandemic. Spectators are banned from the Games, but an audience of some 10,000 IOC members, government types and other assorted VIPs is expected to be on hand at Tokyo's 68,000-seat Olympic Stadium.

Live coverage of the opening ceremony begins Friday at 6:30 a.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBC Gem, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Sports' Tokyo 2020 website. The ceremony starts at 7 a.m. ET, and it'll be re-aired on CBC TV at 7 p.m. ET. The live streams are being provided in several languages, including eight Indigenous ones. Read more details about that here and read more about Canada's flag-bearers here.

Team Canada names Ayim, Hirayama flag bearers for opening ceremony

3 months ago
Former Olympic champion and chef de mission Mark Tewksbury talks about Canada's newly appointed flag bearers, basketball player Miranda Ayim and rugby player Nathan Hirayama. 2:42


Olympic competition starts tomorrow. Though the opening ceremony isn't until Friday morning in Canadian time zones, the events get underway Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET with a women's softball game between Australia and host Japan. Canadian athletes jump into action a few hours later when the third-ranked women's softball team faces Mexico on Wednesday at 2 a.m. ET. Shortly after that, the Canadian women's soccer team begins its quest for a third consecutive Olympic medal Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. ET vs. Japan. We'll have more on Canada's women's softball and soccer teams in tomorrow's newsletter. For now, just wanted to give you the heads-up that the Tokyo Olympics are coming at us fast.

The British Open set the stage nicely for the Olympic men's golf tournament. Young star Collin Morikawa — one of four Americans who will tee it up at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama starting July 28 in Canadian time zones — made history yesterday with his two-stroke victory in England. The 24-year-old, who won the PGA Championship last year, became the first player in men's golf history to win his debut in two different majors. Morikawa was already the first man of Japanese descent to win a major — beating this year's Masters champion, Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, to the punch by about eight months. Matsuyama will be the local fan favourite at the Olympics, while Spain's Jon Rahm is the betting favourite after reclaiming the No. 1 spot in the world rankings by tying for third at the British on the heels of his victory at the U.S. Open. Morikawa is ranked third — one spot behind fellow American Dustin Johnson, who passed on the Olympics. Canada's two entries in the Olympic men's tournament both did well at the British: Mackenzie Hughes tied for sixth place while Corey Conners tied for 15th. They're now ranked 53rd and 36th in the world, respectively. Canada's highest-ranked golfer — Brooke Henderson, who's seventh on the women's list — is competing in a major this week. The Evian Championship tees off Thursday in France. Henderson and 150th-ranked Alena Sharp are Canada's entries in the Olympic women's event, which starts Aug. 3 in Canadian time zones. Read more about Morikawa's British Open win here.

Three athletes in the Olympic Village have now tested positive for COVID-19. Two South African men's soccer players had their cases announced Sunday, and today the Czech Republic team said a men's beach volleyball player has tested positive. Also today, it was confirmed that gymnast Kara Eaker, an alternate on the American team, tested positive at a training camp in Japan. The Czech beach volleyballer and his playing partner could miss their opening game next Monday if the infected player isn't cleared by then. The South African men's soccer team plays its first match this Thursday in Tokyo. The two players and a team video analyst who also tested positive are in isolation and the entire team is being tested daily. Tokyo authorities reported 727 new COVID-19 cases today. A week ago, the count was 502. About 22 per cent of Japan's entire population is fully vaccinated.

And finally...

Welcome to the closed-door Olympics. With COVID-19 cases rising in Tokyo, fans are banned from all Olympic venues — indoor and outdoor — and citizens are being asked to stay home and avoid gathering. Upon arriving in Tokyo yesterday, CBC Sports reporter Devin Heroux was struck by all the walls, fences and various barricades set up to prevent people from congregating to experience the Games. This after he spent nearly 10 hours at the airport enduring testing, document checks and other safety measures. Read about Devin's 29-hour travel Odyssey and his first impressions of how the locals are receiving the Olympics (not super warmly) here.

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

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