Oakville’s Adam van Koeverden will be front and centre when the Beijing Olympics open August 8.
The world champion paddler was named Canada’s flag bearer for the XXIX Olympiad, which finishes on August 24. The announcement was made by the Canadian Olympic Committee as it named 331-member team on Wednesday (July 23).
“It’s an incredible honour and privilege to be selected as Canada’s flagbearer for these Olympic Games” said van Koeverden. “China is preparing an awesome Opening Ceremony, which I’m thrilled to lead our team of amazing Canadian athletes into. It’s a great feeling to be representing my sport of canoe-kayak, our entire Canadian contingent, and everyone back home in Canada. More than anything else, we hope to make every Canadian proud as they see the Maple Leaf enter the Olympic Stadium in Beijing.”
At his first Olympic appearance four years ago in Athens, van Koeverden had the attention of the world. First he raced to a bronze medal in the K-1 1,000 metres. A day later in the K-1 500-metre sprint, van Koeverden won gold and became the country’s first double medallist since sprinter Donovan Bailey and cyclist Clara Hughes earned two medals each in 1996 in Atlanta. For this, he was named flag bearer at the closing ceremony and later won the Lou Marsh Award as Canada’s Male Athlete of the Year.
The sprint kayaker has dominated the World Cup circuit over the past four years, winning the overall title each year from 2004 through 2007. He has won 21 World Cup gold medals, including five this year. He is also a 44-time Canadian champion. Off the water, van Koeverden is an athlete ambassador for the humanitarian group Right to Play, a group that comes to the aid of disadvantaged youth with sport and activity.
The 331-strong team Van Koeverden will lead represents a significant increase over the 265 who competed in Athens in 2004. This growth is due in part to an increase in team sports that qualified for these Summer Games. In 2004 Canada qualified its men’s baseball, men’s water polo and women’s softball squads. This summer, those same three are joined by men’s field hockey and women’s soccer.
This year’s team also includes nine athletes who reached the podium in Athens and are back to either defend their medals or compete in a different event. In addition to van Koeverden and gold medalist Kyle Shewfelt (artistic gymnastics, floor, Calgary), they are silver medallists Alexandre Despatie (diving, 3m springboard, Montreal), Marie-Hélène Prémont (cycling, cross-country, Quebec City), Karen Cockburn (gymnastics, trampoline, Toronto), Tonya Verbeek (wrestling, women’s 55kg, St. Catharines) and Jake Wetzel (rowing, coxless four in 2004, now a member of the men’s eight, Saskatoon), bronze medallists Emilie Heymans (diving, 10m synchro, now 10m platform, St. Lambert, Que.), and Blythe Hartley (diving, 10m synchro, now 3m springboard, North Vancouver).
The 2008 Canadian Olympic Team also boasts several athletes with four or more Olympic Games to their name. This list is led by long-time equestrian standout Ian Millar (Perth, Ont.), who will mark his world record-tying ninth Olympic Games with Austrian sailor Hubert Raudaschl. Rower Lesley Thompson-Willie, of London, Ont., will compete in her sixth Olympic Games and has four Olympic medals to her credit (one silver, three bronze). Edmonton native trap shooter Susan Nattrass will compete in her sixth Olympic Games, dating back to 1976. Race walker Dr. Tim Berrett of Edmonton and slalom kayaker David Ford, of Edmonton, will compete in their fifth Games. Three other athletes will mark their fourth Olympic appearance: Judoka Keith Morgan of Calgary, tennis star and Olympic gold medallist Daniel Nestor and 1984 gold medallist in fencing for China, Jujie Luan.
“We are very proud to have Adam van Koeverden carrying Canada’s flag into the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games,” said COC president Michael Chambers, himself a former competitive paddler. “Adam typifies the Canadian Olympic Committee’s passion for sport excellence and integrity, and represents Canada with pride on every occasion.”
van Koeverden was selected as Canada’s flag bearer by a selection committee comprising Bernier, Giles, two summer athletes chosen by the COC Athletes’ Council Executive Committee and a coach appointed by the coaches’ representative on the COC Executive Committee. Previous recent Olympic Games flag bearers include Nicholas Gill (2004, judo), Caroline Brunet (2000, kayak), Charmaine Crooks (1996, athletics), Michael Smith (1992, athletics), Carolyn Waldo (1988, synchronized swimming) and Alex Baumann (1984, swimming).
The complete list of the 2008 Canadian Olympic Team can be found by visiting the newly-launched COC’s Games website at http://www.olympic.ca/Beijing2008/EN/Athlete/searchResults.htm. Also featured on the site will be 2008 Olympic Games results, athlete and coach biographies, historical results and a listing of the COC mission team that will support Canada’s athletes.