Flag bearer coming in, flag bearer going out.
Vernon athletes had the honour of carrying Canada’s colours into the opening and closing ceremonies at the Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.
Josh Dueck, who won gold and silver in para-alpine skiing, was Team Canada’s flag bearer for Sunday’s closing ceremonies.
Dueck handled the same responsibility bestowed upon fellow Vernon wheelchair curler Sonja Gaudet, who carried Canada’s flag for the opening ceremonies on March 7.
Making the honour even more special for Dueck is the fact that he had never been to a Paralympic Games opening or closing ceremony before, due to his racing schedule.
“So this is my first time going to the big show and I get to carry the flag. It’s awesome,” said Dueck prior to Sunday’s ceremonies. “Our team rocked. We’re skiing well. We met our targets. Tip of the hat to all our coaches and staff, it was cool to see a plan come to fruition.”
The gold medal and being named flag bearer came on the same weekend of the 10-year anniversary of the freestyle skiing accident that left Dueck without the use of his legs.
Team Canada finished the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games ranked third among all nations in the gold medal count, achieving its performance target for these Games.
Canadian athletes won seven gold, two silver and seven bronze medals in Sochi.
Adding to the gold medal count was Gaudet, Armstrong’s Ina Forrest and their wheelchair curling teammates, Jim Armstrong of Ontario, Dennis Thiessen of Manitoba, and fifth Mark Ideson of Ontario .
Canada won an unprecedented third consecutive gold medal in wheelchair curling, beating Russia 8-3 in the final Saturday afternoon after edging China 5-4 in the semifinals in the morning.
The win adds to Canada’s string of success in international curling competition as gold medalist in both men’s and women’s Olympic curling and now the champions of the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games in wheelchair curling.
Gaudet has been a member of all three Paralympics gold-medal squads. Forrest won gold in Vancouver in 2010.
“It feels fantastic,” said Forrest. “The gold-medal game felt so smooth and comfortable.”
With its Sochi performance, Canada has kept its place as a top winter sport nation following the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games, where Canada collected 10 gold medals, five of which were won by a single athlete, para-alpine skier Lauren Woolstencroft who retired after 2010.
Dueck conducted the ceremonial face-off at Tuesday’s Vipers-Penticton BCHL playoff game.