Clara Hughes, an Olympic champion speedskater, cyclist and humanitarian activist, has been named Canada’s flag-bearer for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games. Ingrid Paul, a Dutch native who is a coach with the Canadian long-track team, revealed the flag-bearer’s identity via Twitter. “Clara will carry the flag for Canada into the stadium. Good choice,” she said in Dutch.
The 37-year-old Winnipeg native, who now makes her home in Glen Sutton, Que., is Canada’s second most decorated Olympian with five medals. She is the defending long-track champion in the 5,000 metres and a silver medallist in the team pursuit.
The official announcement was set for later Friday. A Speedskating Canada spokesman said she could neither confirm or deny the flag-bearer’s identity. The opening ceremonies are Feb. 12.
Hughes is the sixth Canadian speedskater to be an Olympic flag-bearer. She joins Catriona Le May Doan (2002), Sylvie Daigle (1992), Gaetan Boucher (1984), Ralph Olin (1964) and Gordon Audley (1952). Hockey player Daniele Goyette carried the Maple Leaf at the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Turin Games.
Hughes is the only Canadian athlete to win medals at both the Summer and Winter Games. She is an Officer of the Order of Canada and received the International Olympic Committee’s sport community award. The Vancouver Games will be Hughes’ fifth Olympics. She won two bronze medals at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games in cycling and also competed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She qualified as a speedskater for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City and won bronze in the 5,000 metres.
Four years ago in Turin, she donated $10,000 of her own money to the humanitarian group Right to Play, this at a time when the Canadian Olympic Committee did not give cash prizes for medals. Hughes has gone full circle in her career. She fell in love with speedskating as a teenager watching the 1988 Calgary Olympics. She skated for a year, then switched to cycling.
Away from the rink, Hughes does extensive work with Right to Play and speaks out on environmental issues. “I want to stay connected to humanity and contribute to the human condition and try to make it a little better maybe,” Hughes said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press. “That’s always been a goal of mine and I feel like as an athlete I have this incredible platform to try and make a difference for people.”
Hughes follows figure skater Brian Orser (1988 Calgary Olympics) and 800-metre runner Abby Hoffman (1976 Montreal Olympics) as a flag-bearer on home soil.