Sonja Gaudet will carry Canada's flag at the opening ceremony of the Sochi Paralympics.
Whether the most decorated wheelchair curler in history sticks around for the rest of the show is still up in the air.
Gaudet was announced as Canada's flag-bearer on Wednesday and will lead her country's delegation into Fisht Stadium on Friday night.
But with the festivities expected to go late into the evening and the curling team's first game set for the following morning, Gaudet might have to duck out early.
"We do have some strategies," said Gaudet. "Our priority is to be ready for Game 1. It's a big game for us and we're certainly going to make sure that we are (ready). (Carrying the flag is) just going to give us a little more purpose and create a really positive atmosphere to compete in."
The 47-year-old who lives in Vernon, who won gold medals at both the 2006 and 2010 Paralympics said she was overwhelmed with emotion when told that she would lead the Canadian contingent.
"It carries a lot of purpose for me," said Gaudet, who also has three wheelchair curling world championships to her name. "Of course we're here to compete as athletes with a physical disability at the highest level -- that's what the Paralympic Games are.
"(But) it sends a big global message as well about looking past the wheelchair, looking past the visual impairment, looking past the missing limb and really focusing on the person and focusing on what's there.
"We don't want people to see what they see when they first see us. We want them to see the athlete, the person, and not notice what's missing."
Gaudet, who suffered a spinal cord injury after falling from a horse, also acknowledged that she wouldn't have been named flag-bearer if it wasn't for her curling teammates.
"I have a lot of emotions going through my mind right now," she said. "Totally honoured to have this very prestigious position. I can't wait to lead my fellow Paralympic athletes into the opening ceremonies. Although I might be physically carrying the flag, I'm honoured that my team is going to be up there with me."
Canadian wheelchair curling coach Joe Rea said Gaudet was an obvious choice.
"She's such a wonderful person," she said. "She's great for the sport. She's done everything in our country to help develop the sport. I don't think I could pick a person on the planet that deserves this more than her."
Canadian chef de mission Ozzie Sawicki said Gaudet exceeded all of the criteria set for the flag-bearer, including previous international experience, a commitment to fair play, respect from fellow athletes and having made contributions to sport.
"No other wheelchair curler in the world has accomplished what she has done," Sawicki said.
Gaudet is the second on the Canadian squad to skip Jim Armstrong, who said his teammate's commitment is what got her to where she is now.
"In the six, seven years that I've known Sonja, all I've done is see her work very hard," said Armstrong, who won Paralympic gold with Gaudet four years ago in Vancouver. "Her skills have just continued to improve and it has not come easy. She has set a work ethic that any coach would be very proud of."
The curling team opens its schedule against Britain on Saturday morning and follows that up with a game against host Russia later in the day.
Canada made the podium 19 times in 2010 and has set a goal of finishing top-three in gold medals in Sochi.
The Winter Paralympics include wheelchair curling, sledge hockey, para-nordic skiing and biathlon, para-alpine skiing and para-snowboard.
Gaudet won gold at the 2006 Paralympics when wheelchair curling made its debut and followed that up with another gold on home soil. Her three world championships include last year's victory in Sochi.
"We've been here. We're comfortable here," said Gaudet, who said the Canadian flag will be attached to a poll on the back of her wheelchair that she uses for curling. "We know a little bit what to expect at the venue so we're in a really good place."
With the curtain having finally closed on the Sochi Olympics, all eyes are turning on the 2018 Winter Games, with some wondering whether Pyeongchang, South Korea, will be able to pull off a Games as successful as those hosted by Russia.
It’s been almost 30 years since the Olympics came to Korea, when Seoul hosted the Summer Olympics in 1988. The country bid twice to host a Winter Games, but lost twice, first to Vancouver for the 2010 Games, then to Sochi.
Pyeongchang organizing committee chief, Kim Jin-Sun, told reporters this weekend that South Korea wants to illustrate to the world how rapidly its economy has developed since the 1988 Games.
“Thirty years ago, the world saw a developing country,” Kim told a news conference this past weekend. “Just one generation later, the world will see a truly developed Korea through these Games.”
Kim added that winter sports are relatively under-developed in Asia compared with Europe and North America, but that’s beginning to change.
“Recently, the interest in winter sports and related industries has grown dramatically,” he said. “Asia has a great potential to become a huge market for winter sports. In that sense, I believe Pyeongchang will offer a window of opportunity for Asia.”
Will Pyeongchang be ready for the tens of thousands of athletes, coaches and spectators that will descend on their city for the Games?
Sochi earned plenty of derision for the late construction of many of its hotels, appearing to many Western reporters as though they had been cobbled together at the last minute. Others criticized the poor transit system that shuttled reporters and athletes between the village and the sporting venues.
Unlike Sochi, Pyeongchang has many of the facilities it will need already in place, at a ski resort called Alpensia. A ski jump tower has been built, and its Olympic Stadium is in the early stages of construction.
Pyeongchang’s infrastructure budget is projected at a modest $7 billion, more than half of which is expected to pay for a high-speed rail line that will speed the commute from Seoul to Pyeongchang.
Of course, $7 billion is hardly pocket change, but that figure pales in comparison to the estimated $51 billion it cost Russia to host the Sochi Games, or the $40 billion Beijing laid out for the 2008 Summer Games.
One aspect that ate up a large portion of Sochi’s $2 billion operating price tag was security. Organizers deployed tens of thousands of security officers to keep the Games running smoothly, particularly amid threats from Muslim insurgents.
Security is an issue at any Olympic Games, of course, but it will likely be intense for the Pyeongchang Games, too. The city is located close to the demilitarized zone that separates North and South -- the world's most heavily armed border.
Relations between the two Koreas have never been friendly in the 60 years since the Korean War ended in an armistice. The last few years have not seen the harsh rhetoric and threats of military strikes that once marked the two countries’ relations. But experience has shown that things can change quickly between the longtime rival nations.
Pyeongchang organizer Kim said this weekend his team is confident the 2018 Games will promote peace among the divided peninsula. He said he even held out hope that North Korean athletes will compete in 2018.
“I know North Korea has some winter sport facilities and interest is growing in these sports,” organizing committee president Kim Jin-sun.
“I hope winter sports will develop in North Korea, and four years from now North Korean athletes will be able to come… If that happens, it will be a very good thing.”
Plenty of snow
Many wondered whether Sochi, with its palm trees dotting the Black Sea waterfront, was even the right venue to host a winter Games. And indeed, temperatures did as expected, soaring into the double digits Celsius in the village at times, leaving many to joke that it felt more like a Summer Games at times than a Winter Games.
That shouldn’t be a problem in Pyeongchang. The city is a traditional alpine resort with plenty of snow. Just this past weekend, the temperature dropped to minus 17 C before climbing to a more comfortable 4 C.
NHL at Games?
One closely-watched aspect of the 2018 Games is whether the NHL will allow its players to compete.
The arrival of pro players into the Games in 1998 made hockey watching a must-see for many Olympic fans. But NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly has said the league needs to consider a few things before deciding whether to participate.
The NHL does not earn any revenues from the Olympics, and players are not paid to attend, but the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) reimburses the NHL for player participation costs, including travel.
Daly says the leagues need to consider the logistics of travel to and from the host city, the issue of player insurance, and access for NHL media platforms.
Kim said he hoped to see players at the Pyeongchang Games.
“Ice hockey is one of the most important sports on the Olympic programme,” he said.
“NHL players have participated in every Olympics since Nagano in 1998 and their participation has made a great contribution to the worldwide expansion of winter sports… In that sense we sincerely hope and believe that they will come to the Pyeongchang Games in 2018.”
It was already known that the Kelowna Rockets would be well represented at the 2014 Sochi games, but no one knew exactly what to expect from each player as they donned their country’s jersey to play against the world’s elite.
The trio of Shea Weber, Duncan Keith and Jamie Benn came up huge for Canada, leading them to the gold medal.
Weber (6 points) and Keith (+6) both won their second gold medal in a row, while Benn chipped in two game winning goals, including his terrific tip-in against the US, to secure his first Olympic medal.
Alex Edler, who had 61 points in 74 career games with the Rockets, earned a silver medal for Team Sweden.
Former Rockets Lauris Darzins was a star member of a hard-working Latvian club that gave Team Canada a tough quarter-final game. Darzins had the lone goal for Latvia and led the team in goals (4) in the tournament.
Austrian player Tomas Raffl, who played 12 games with the Rockets in 05-06, also had a good Olympics with three points in four games.
Flushed with pride after a spectacular showing at the costliest Olympics ever, Russia celebrated 17 days of sport-driven global unity on Sunday night with a farewell show that hands off the Winter Games to their next host, Pyeongchang in South Korea.
Said the head of the International Olympic Committee: "Russia delivered all what it had promised."
Raucous spectators chanted "Ro-ssi-ya! Ro-ssi-ya!" — "Russia! Russia!" — before being surrounded by multicolored fireworks and carried through a visually stunning, sometimes surrealistic panorama of Russian history and culture. The crowd was in a party mood after the high-security games passed off safely without feared terror attacks.
"This is the new face of Russia — our Russia," said Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi organizing committee. He called the games "a moment to cherish and pass on to the next generations."
In a charming touch, the Sochi organizers used the ceremony to make a joke at their own expense. Dancers in shimmering silver costumes formed themselves into four rings and a clump in the centre of the stadium. That was a wink to a technical glitch in the Feb. 7 opening ceremony, when one of the five Olympic rings in a wintry opening scene failed to open. The rings were supposed to join together and erupt in fireworks.
This time, it worked: As Russian President Vladimir Putin watched from the stands, the dancers in the clump waited a few seconds and then formed a ring of their own, making five, drawing laughs from the crowd.
The closing ceremony, a farewell from Russia with love, pageantry and protocol, started at 20:14 local time — a nod to the year that Putin seized upon to remake Russia's image with the Olympics' power to wow and concentrate global attention and massive resources.
"Now we can see our country is very friendly," said Boris Kozikov of St. Petersburg, Russia. "This is very important for other countries around the world to see."
The nation's $51 billion investment — topping even Beijing's estimated $40 billion layout for the 2008 Summer Games — transformed a decaying resort town on the Black Sea into a household name. All-new facilities, unthinkable in the Soviet era of drab shoddiness, showcased how far Russia has come in the two decades since it turned its back on communism.
But the Olympic show didn't win over critics of Russia's backsliding on democracy and human rights under Putin and its institutionalized intolerance of gays. And while security was a potential problem going in, it appeared to be a big success coming out: Feared attacks by Islamic militants who threatened to target the games didn't materialize.
Despite the bumps along the way, IOC President Thomas Bach used the closing ceremony to deliver an robustly upbeat verdict of the games, his first as IOC president. He was particularly enthusiastic about the host city itself.
"What took decades in other parts of the world was achieved here in Sochi in just seven years," Bach said in declaring the games closed.
Read more 2014 Sochi Games articles
- Steve Yzerman to leave Team Canada Feb 23
- Canada finishes fourth in medal count Feb 23
- Our game, our gold Feb 23
- Canada's flag bearers will be ... Feb 23
- Olympic goals out of reach for Canada Feb 22
- Kripps, teammates walk away from crash Feb 22
- Finland shuts out US for bronze Feb 22
- BC not serving beer for gold medal game Feb 22
- Orange crush: Dutch dominate on ice Feb 22
- Serwa: 'Wow, this really happened' Feb 21
- Benn lifts Canada over US Feb 21
- Biathlete/bobsledder ejected for doping Feb 21
(Click for RSS instructions.)