What's it like to be a flag-bearer?
Smile, wave and try not to trip
Very, very soon — and I can't believe it is finally here — we will all proudly, yet somewhat expectantly, be staring at our flag-bearer at these Olympic Games as she smiles, waves and tries not to trip.
What is it like to be this person?
The quick answer is: awesome or amazing or mind-blowing or overwhelming! Take your pick, as the list just keeps going in that fashion. The real trick is to get to the root of what made that person eligible for the honour, and compare that to how they are feeling about their Olympics that is about to unfold in front of the world for scrutiny. Yup, that can change things.
Back in 1988, I was a much younger version of myself when I followed my idol Brian Orser, the flag-bearer, into an electrifying stadium in Calgary. We had invited the world to our party and we were ready for it. Everything was just fine even though my over-hyped up mind could barely conceive that some 60,000 people were at the stadium cheering for us while millions more watched on TV. With Brian up front carrying our flag, we were in good hands and everything would be just fine.
In a flash it was 1994, and I was a little older and much more self-aware. This time everything might not be so "fine" since I did not quite have the same faith in the guy up front like I did in 1988 — since that guy up front was little ol' me. For Brian, being the flag bearer was easy, right? In my mind he was perfect to carry our colours and our hopes. Now that it was my turn, I hoped that I was giving our team the same sense of calm and assurance that Brian had given me. I knew it was impossible to compare because I had been following my hero into that stadium, but I still tried to carry myself and the flag with the same poise that Brian had.
When I saw pictures of myself in that important role I was struck at how big and goofy my grin was in almost every shot. I had to laugh because I thought I had been a cool, calm and collected leader — but you could see the excited kid in me coming through. I suppose the worries that came to mind about leadership and my worthiness all went away as soon as they handed me the Canadian flag. Expectations evaporated and all I could think of was how this was the coolest I had ever felt in my young life. I was playing a role in my country's identity and even though every athlete who ever put themselves into competition as a Canadian does exactly that, this was so specific. I had won world titles as a Canadian but I had never felt this connected to my homeland. I hated giving up the flag at the end of the party but the feeling of the moment did not end there.
During the Games I was a common figure for the athletes. Greetings and wishes of “Good luck!” from my team members kept the feeling alive, and the silly grin, too.
In another flash it is 2014 and as I left my office to drive to the airport to fly to Sochi I looked at the only picture of me on the wall. There I was, with a few locks of hair poking out from under my cap, the flag in my hand and that goofy grin on my face. Much has changed since that amazing day in Norway but the grin and that sense of pride is still with me.
So, being flag bearer is different for everyone depending on how you feel about yourself, your chances in the Olympics and even your own country, but I promise you that whoever carries it must know in their heart that there isn't a better country to support you as you lead in the team.
Enjoy the moment — and remember to smile because you are going to hang that picture up for sure!