Opening Ceremony marks the start of the Winter Games, with the Parade of
Nations taking center stage of the event. It is what has taken up
the majority of my time in the Research Room at this point, as we try to
determine who will carry each national delegation’s flag. While most
consider it to be a great honor, some athletes do not want the burden
of carrying the flag during the ceremony. Germany, for example, had
to struggle to find someone willing to do it, as most of the athletes felt
that it was too strenuous an activity on the eve of competition. The
Americans choose their flag bearer democratically, with the captains of the
U.S. team meeting and voting on the flag bearer. This year it is speed
skater Chris Witty.
Torino marks Witty’s fifth Olympic appearance – she competed in speed skating
in Lillehammer, Nagano, where she took home silver and a bronze, and
Salt Lake, and in track cycling in Sydney in 2000. Her Salt Lake
performance is one of the most memorable of those Games – she won gold in
the 1000m in world record time while battling what many thought was mononucleosis.
She later revealed that she was suffering from emotional stress caused by
childhood memories of sexual abuse. She returns to competition in
Torino as a hero to many, which the decision of her teammates to make her
flag bearer demonstrates. She will likely compete in the 500m, the
1000m, and the 1500m, and while she has struggled since Salt Lake, she hopes
to defend her gold medal in the 1000m. Teammate Jennifer Rodriguez, who took home the
bronze in the 1000m in 2002, will again be by her side. Like teammate
a favorite in speed skating on the men’s side, Rodriguez has a background
in in-line skating. The American duo likely will be challenged by two
of the best all-around skaters in the world, Canada’s Cindy Klassen and Germany’s Anni Friesinger.
But before Witty faces the likes of Klassen and Friesinger,
she has a job to do: to carry the American flag into Stadio Olimpico to take part in a ceremony
that has been, according to the organizers, 15,000 days in the making, using
6,100 volunteers. Approximately 2 billion people are expected to watch
– don’t get left out.