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Vote for Kikkan in that online poll, but athletes will decide who carries US flag in opening

Beth Bragg
FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2013, file photo, Kikkan Randall, of the United States, races to win the Ladies 6 x 1.2 km Free Team Sprint race at the Nordic Ski World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy. Every time Randall reaches a career milestone, she's also breaking new ground for American cross-country skiing. Now there's just the big one left: an Olympic medal. (AP Photo/Giovanni Auletta, File)
Giovanni Auletta
Kikkan Randall from the U.S. raises hands as she wins the Women's World Cup Cross Country Ski 1.5km Sprint Free event in Szklarska Poreba, Poland, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014.
Alik Keplicz

Go ahead and vote for Anchorage's Kikkan Randall in an online poll to see which Team USA athlete is the popular choice to carry the American flag at the Winter Olympics opening ceremonies next week in Sochi, Russia.

But the people you really need to influence are Olympians like hockey player Zach Parise and curler Erika Brown.

Athletes will chose who among them will march ahead of Team USA at Friday's opening ceremonies. The choice is made a day or two before the Games begin, U.S. Ski Team spokesman Tom Kelly said Friday.

More specifically, team captains will make the decision on behalf of the 231 U.S. athletes going to Sochi, Kelly said.

Randall, a three-time Olympian and medal favorite in cross-country skiing, is one of 13 choices in an nbcolympics.com poll that asks who should be the U.S. flagbearer in Sochi.

As of Friday evening, she shared second place with ski jumper Lindsey Van with 10 percent of the vote. Bobsledder Chris Fogt leads with 13 percent.

Fogt is tough competition -- he's an Army major who served a year in Afghanistan after competing at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

That kind of compelling background -- poverty overcome, diseases and injuries conquered, tours of duty served -- compete with perseverance and athletic achievement when it comes to picking flagbearers.

A look at past opening-ceremony flagbearers reveals few familiar names -- figure skater Scott Hamilton in 1980 may be the only true star among them.

Alaskans may recognize Bill Koch, the 1992 flagbearer, because he is a cross-country skier and this is a state of cross-country skiers -- and because Koch's name is coming up more and more as the Sochi Games near. Koch's 1976 silver medal made him the first and only American to win an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing, and many expect Randall to become the second.

Take away figure skating, hockey, snowboarding and alpine skiing, and few Americans achieve long-lasting stardom at the Winter Olympics, which is one reason why the list of flagbearers may draw blank stares. At the 2010 Olympics, the field of Americans included superstars like Shaun White, Apolo Ohno, Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn. The flagbearer was the equally accomplished but comparatively anonymous luger Mark Grimmette, a five-time Olympian and two-time medal winner.

One year, the flagbearer wasn't even an athlete. At the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the U.S. flag was carried by Godfrey Dewey, the manager of the ski team and, more significantly, the president of the Lake Placid Organizing Committee, which had won the bid for the 1932 Winter Olympics largely due to Dewey's efforts.

Countries also select someone to carry the flag in the closing ceremonies, an honor that for Team USA often goes to someone who distinguished himself or herself during the Games. Both flag carriers are chosen by their peers.

"That's what makes it special; they are not only representing their country but they are also representing their teammates," U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky said in a 2012 Reuters report on flagbearers.

"It's not something from a bureaucratic standpoint or trading a favor; it's the athletes themselves deciding who they think is the right person."

Randall's case is easy to make.

She is a four-time Olympian who comes in as the two-time reigning World Cup sprint champion. She is an ambassador for her sport who intends to make cross-country skiing cool in the United States, and she is a leader of Fast and Female, an international group aimed at empowering young girls through sports.

Poll candidates

Athletes appearing on the nbcolympics.com poll:

Erika Brown, curling
Julie Chu, women's hockey
Emily Cook, aerial skiing
Meryl Davis and Charlie White, ice dancing
Shani Davis, speedskating
Chris Fogt, bobsled
Steve Holcomb, bobsled
Todd Lodwick, nordic comb.
Bode Miller, alpine skiing
Noelle Pikus-Pace, skeleton
Kikkan Randall, cross-country
Lindsay Van, ski jumping
Shaun White, snowboarding

 

Past U.S. Winter Olympic flagbearers

2010 Mark Grimmette Luge
2006 Chris Witty Speed skating
2002 Amy Peterson Short track speed skating
1998 Eric Flaim Speed skating
1994 Cammy Myler Luge
1992 Bill Koch Cross country skiing
1988 Lyle Nelson Biathlon
1984 Frank Masley Luge
1980 Scott Hamilton Figure skating
1976 Cindy Nelson Alpine skiing
1972 Dianne Holum Speed skating
1968 Terry McDermott Speed skating
1964 Bill Disney Speed skating
1960 Don McDermott Speed skating
1956 James Bickford Bobsleigh
1952 James Bickford Bobsleigh
1948 Jack Heaton Skeleton/bobsled
1944, 1940 Games canceled due to war
1936 Rolf Monsen Cross country skiing, ski jumping, nordic combined
1932 Billy Fiske Bobsled
1928 Godfrey Dewey President, Lake Placid Organizing Committee
1924 Taffy Abel Ice hockey

 

NBC Sports: Who should be the US flag bearer at the Sochi Opening Ceremony?
By BETH BRAGG
bbragg@adn.com