Friday, 24 January 2014

The Olympic Spirit

I had to laugh today when a few sites highlighted a heated online debate over Hayley Wickenheiser being named as Canada's flag-bearer in the Opening Ceremonies of the Sochi Winter Olympics. Apparently, there were some who felt that Sidney Crosby would be a better choice as the person who carried the flag at the front of the line of all the Canadian athletes. While I respect all that Crosby has done for Canada in answering the call, Wickenheiser's accomplishments wearing the red-and-white maple leaf cast a long shadow on all that Crosby has done.

This will be the fifth time that Wickenheiser will suit up for Canada on the biggest stage for women's hockey on the planet. She has won three gold medals and a silver medal at the Winter Olympics, and even suited up for the Canadian softball team in the Summer Olympics. She has played in almost every international tournament, setting scoring records and appearance records all over the place. She is certainly one of the most-decorated women to have ever played the game, and she has been a driving force in helping to grow the women's game.

With women's hockey being considered as something to drop due to the dominance by two teams over the past five Olympiads, there is no better time to have women's hockey pushed to the forefront, and having one of the best to ever suit up in the game carry the flag should show that Canada is committed to growing the game. While the results of this Olympics may ultimately determine the fate of the sport at the Olympics, having Wickenheiser carry the flag sends a strong message about where the sport is in Canada.

Could others have been awarded the honour? Absolutely. There are a number of fine Olympians who have dedicated their lives to representing Canada at the Olympics. All of them have sacrificed to make it to the level where they can walk into Fischt Stadium amongst the world's best athletes. Hayley Wickenheiser is one of those athletes who has given everything and been paid a pittance for all the work she has done. Sidney Crosby? He has sacrificed, but he's being paid quite handsomely for all those sacrifices now.

If we're talking about the Olympic Spirit, this is something that Hayley Wickenheiser has had for nearly twenty years. This tournament is her Stanley Cup every four years, and she has routinely showed up and played her heart out in order to win women's hockey's greatest honour. She was very candid, but polite, in her comments after being named as the flag-bearer over Sidney Crosby.
"For a lot of Olympic, amateur elite athletes, the Olympics is the stage," she told reporters. "For us, in women's hockey, the Olympics is our Stanley Cup. It's what we play for, every four years, it's what we strive to be — it is everything. So I personally do think the flag-bearer should represent those athletes that live most of their lives in this arena of amateur sport and elite sport outside of professional sport. But having said that, I look at our men's hockey team and someone like Sidney and think that someone like him carrying the flag... well, every single Canadian would be so proud to see him walk into that stadium, for what he does for hockey around the world."
Now, I'm not hear to rain on Hayley Wickenheiser's parade. Some may question her speed and hands in terms of her being 35 years-old this year, but no one can question her heart, compete level, or tenacity. She loves winning, she loves competing, and she loves the game. But there was an interesting tweet sent out by Anthony Petrielli that I cannot validate as being true at this time.
So it needs to be asked, especially if this tweet is true: did Hockey Canada know that she was going to be named as the flag-bearer in December when the Dan Church resignation happened? Church was the man who cut Tessa Bonhomme - a move that was highly unpopular at the time - and now it appears he was set to send another popular, veteran player home in order to make the team younger and faster. Of course, I'm just speculating, but, if Mr. Petrielli's tweet holds water, there's something fishy going on behind the scenes at Hockey Canada.

All in all, I'm quite comfortable with Hayley Wickenheiser carrying the flag. You should be as well. She's given her life to this country in terms of the countless times she has pulled on the sweater, and she's asked for nothing more than our cheers. That's the Olympic Spirit, and Hayley Wickenheiser has it in spades.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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