Winning a gold medal at the Olympics is a huge honor but earning the right to carry your country's flag at the closing ceremony is arguably an even more prestigious occasion as it is something that only few are able to do.
Each nation usually picks someone who best exemplifies the Olympic spirit during the games and became a great representative of the country they performed for. The United States selected hockey player Julie Chu as its flag bearer:
Other countries will make their decision prior to the start of the ceremony, but it will not always be easy with quite a few deserving participants. However, these athletes truly deserve the honor after excellent showings in Sochi.
Russia: Victor An, Short Track
No athlete in the entire Olympics was more dominant than Victor An. The South Korea native moved to Russia, and he was a treat for the host country all week long.
An was one of only two athletes to win three gold medals in Sochi, along with Belarusian biathlete Darya Domracheva. He also added a bronze medal to continue his incredible run.
Willie Cornblatt of NBC Olympics noted the overall accomplishments of An:
Viktor Ahn won a medal in all four events and is the only short tracker to ever accomplish the feat, and he has done it twice (2006)— Willie Cornblatt (@WillieCornblatt) February 21, 2014
The last of his gold medals came as an anchor in the 5,000-meter relay, an event which is truly an endurance battle even with three teammates. Amazingly, this came about an hour after he won his individual gold medal in the 500-meter race.
In a sport that features so many falls and mistakes that can cost someone a medal, An has proven to be as consistent as they come and truly one of the best ever to compete in short track.
He was simply the most impressive athlete at the Olympics and deserves to represent the host country as a flag bearer.
Norway: Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, Biathlon
As the leader in the gold medal race, Norway has a lot of options of athletes to represent the country in the closing ceremonies. However, selecting Ole Einar Bjoerndalen is a no-brainer decision after his incredible performance at these Olympics and over the past 20 years.
The 40-year-old biathlon star first competed in 1994 at Lillehammer before winning his first gold medal in 1998 at Nagano. He continued to win until he accomplished an incredible feat in Sochi, as noted by Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated:
Norway biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen just won his 13th Olympic medal. He is now the most decorated Winter Olympian of alltime.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) February 19, 2014
This includes eight gold medals, two of them won at these games. He earned one in the 10-kilometer sprint and another in the mixed relay, proving that he is truly one of the best Winter Olympians ever.
Competing in any athletic event at a high level at 40 years old is something to be proud of. Reaching the Olympics is impressive but winning two golds is simply incredible.
Bjoerndalen was a star and a leader for Norway in one of the country's best Olympics ever.
Canada: Gilmore Junio, Speedskating
Unlike the other athletes on this list, Gilmore Junio did not have a lot of success in his sport. The Canadian only competed in one event and finished in 10th place in the 500-meter speedskating race.
Junio was supposed to compete in the 1,000-meter event as well, but he decided to give up his spot to Denny Morrison, who he felt would have a better chance to compete. Morrison had been one of the better competitors in the world at that distance, but he fell during qualifying and lost his spot on the team.
In the end, Morrison took over and finished with a silver medal. Junio explained his actions to Shawna Richer of The Globe and Mail:
The decision to give Denny [Morrison] my spot was purely about performance. We wanted what was best for the team, what gave us the best chance to win. ...He’s a teammate, a friend, and that’s his distance. I was the benefactor of unfortunate events at trials and this was the way to make it right.
This selflessness is exactly what the Olympics are all about, and Junio deserves the honor to carry the flag as a true representative of sportsmanship.
Rob Leth of Global News is one of many in favor of this honor as he continues the hashtag "#gilforflagbearer":
While Canada earned a lot of medals at these Olympics, few events will be more memorable than that of Junio.
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