BEIJING — Charles Hamelin's teammates were speculating recently about who might carry Canada's flag into the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.
Hamelin had a hard time keeping a straight face.
Marie-Philip Poulin was finally able to break the good news earlier this week to her teammates, who wrapped their team captain up in a celebratory group hug.
Canada's women's hockey captain, and one of the world's most decorated short-track speedskaters were named Canada's flag-bearers for Friday's opening ceremony, and the two shared a laugh about how hard it was to keep a lid on the good news.
"People on my team were discussing it, 'Eh, who do you think it’s going to be?'" Hamelin said, with a chuckle. "I was like, 'It could be anyone. Maybe it's you.' It was just fun to keep it to myself … I think I told them two or three days ago, and people were really, really happy for me."
Poulin said sharing the news with her team was "a nice moment. I think the reaction said it all. It was very special."
In a country that churns out Winter Olympic stars, Poulin and Hamelin are two of Canada's finest, with nine Olympic appearances and eight medals between them.
Poulin, a 30-year-old from Beauceville, Que., scored the game-winning goals at both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. Known as "Captain Clutch," she’s also a two-time world champion, scoring the golden goal for Canada at the 2021 world tournament.
Poulin follows in the footsteps of Hayley Wickenheiser (in 2014) and Danielle Goyette (2006), both women's hockey stars who carried the Maple Leaf.
"I was lucky enough to see them play, but also being able to play with Hayley. She's paved the way for all women," Poulin said. "I'm honoured to be one of them, to be a model for the young ones coming in. It is very special. Right now it's slowly kicking in, that feeling, and it's pretty special."
Hamelin, a 37-year-old from Sainte-Julie Que., is a winner of five Olympic medals, including three gold, tying him for Canada's most decorated male winter Olympian.
"I never said to myself, 'One day I want to be the flag-bearer of Canada,'" Hamelin said. "But for me to be here is the greatest honour of all. And to see all the young kids and being one of the leaders of the team, for me I take my role seriously."
Retired long-track speedskating star Catriona Le May Doan, who is Canada's chef de mission in Beijing, delivered the good news to the duo a couple of weeks ago, saying the Zoom call to them was "one of the best things I've been able to do, and it was very emotional."
Le May Doan carried the flag into the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.
"Being named flag-bearer continues to be one of my most cherished and proud Olympic moments of my career," she said. "I remember walking into that stadium, it was five months after 9/11. There was a lot of things that we'd overcome in 2002. Walking into that stadium in Salt Lake City, it will be 20 years this week, it's hard to believe, it still brings me chills."
Athletes had their fair share to overcome to get to Beijing, which will open amid strict health and safety protocols around COVID-19. After two years of training facility closures and travel restrictions, just testing negative to travel to Beijing was a huge and unexpected hurdle to clear.
Plus, the spectre of China's alleged human rights violations hang over these Games.
Poulin and Hamelin were asked if they had intended to march in the ceremony regardless, and if they'd considered not marching as a gesture to the human rights issues.
"I just think that we worked really hard for so long," Hamelin said. "I'm in my fifth Games, (Poulin) is in her fourth. To have the honour to march in the opening ceremonies, as all the athletes would do, is something unique, it's something that we look forward to for four years. It's like a little gift that people give us.
"In my mind, if you have a chance to do it, you have to do it."
Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir carried Canada's flag into the opening ceremony four years ago in Pyeongchang, while basketball veteran Miranda Ayim and rugby sevens player Nathan Hirayama shared flag duties at the Tokyo Olympics this past summer.
The Opening Ceremony is scheduled for Friday, 7 a.m. ET, at the National Stadium — or the Bird's Nest — in Beijing.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2022.