The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) today named two-time Olympic medallist, judoka Nicolas Gill, as Canada’s flag bearer for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. Chef de Mission David Bedford joined Assistant Chef de Mission Nathalie Lambert and Canadian team athletes for the official team and flag bearer announcement during a ceremony held at the Hellenic Cultural Centre in Toronto this morning. A similar ceremony will be held at the Molson Canada building in Montreal at 3 p.m. this afternoon.

“I am extremely proud to have been chosen to carry the flag and lead Canada’s Olympic team,” said Gill via satellite from Belgium. “This is truly a special honour in what has been a very challenging year. I am now looking forward to representing my country as both the flag bearer and a competitor in Athens.”

Gill, a Montreal native and sixth-degree Dan black belt, is heading to his fourth Olympic Games. He recently returned to competition from a serious knee injury suffered during an invitational meet in Moscow in November 2003 and is ready to compete in Athens. Gill’s impressive career, which has made him a legend in many parts of the world, includes 10 national championships, a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona and a silver medal at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

Gill will be leading Canada’s team into the Olympic Stadium in Athens for the 2004 Olympic Games opening ceremony on August 13, 2004. Canada’s team will include 266 athletes (134 women and 132 men) competing in 28 disciplines. Equestrian Ian Millar has been named to a Canadian record ninth Olympic team.

Eleven athletes and two teams will also be returning to defend their medals from the 2000 Games in Sydney, including triathlete Simon Whitfield, wrestler Daniel Igali and tennis player Daniel Nestor (gold), judoka Nicolas Gill, paddler Caroline Brunet, diver Emilie Heymans (silver), Trampolinists Mathieu Turgeon and Karen Cockburn, paddler Steven Giles, Dominique Bosshart in taekwondo, the synchronized swimming team and the women’s eight rowing team (bronze).

Several other members of the Canadian team are also returning for their fourth Olympic Games (race walker Tim Berrett, sailor Richard Clarke, paddlers David Ford and Steven Giles, judoka Nicolas Gill and cyclist Alison Sydor) or fifth (paddler Caroline Brunet, shooter Susan Nattrass, and sailor Ross MacDonald). The complete list of Canada’s 2004 Olympic team, as well as all background documents distributed at today’s press conferences, is available at http://www.olympic.ca.

“The 2004 Olympic Games will provide a unique experience that highlights the Game’s rich tradition and history,” said Bedford. “As it is Canada’s 100th anniversary of Olympic team participation, the entire Canadian team, including our athletes, coaches and mission staff, are committed to excellence as they head to Athens.”

“It is a thrill to join David in leading the Canadian team in Athens,” said Lambert, a three-time Olympic medallist in short-track speed skating. “I am looking forward to the roar of the crowd when the Canadian team marches into the stadium in Athens behind Nicolas. Although there were several worthy candidates for the flag bearer role, Nicolas stood out because of his long and successful career and his character on and off the field of play.”

Gill was chosen to be the Canadian flag bearer by a selection committee comprising Bedford, Lambert, two winter athletes chosen by the COC Athletes Council Executive Committee and a coach appointed by the coaches’ representative on the COC Executive Committee. Previous Canadian flag bearers include Caroline Brunet (Sydney 2000, kayak), Charmaine Crooks (Atlanta 1996, athletics), Michael Smith (Barcelona 1992, athletics), Carolyn Waldo (Seoul 1988, synchronized swimming) and Alex Baumann (Los Angeles 1984, swimming).

James Worrall, Canada’s oldest living flag bearer, was also honoured during the Toronto announcement. Worrall, who carried Canada’s flag and competed in track and field during the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, recently celebrated his 90th birthday on June 23, 2004, fittingly the date designated as International Olympic Day.