Nordic combined skier Todd Lodwick was selected by Team USA on Wednesday to carry the U.S. flag during the 2014 Opening Ceremony. Lodwick will compete at his sixth Winter Olympics in Sochi, making him the first American to do so.
The 37-year-old first competed in the 1994 Winter Olympics, and despite a brief retirement following the 2006 Games, came back to compete in the 2010 Vancouver Games.
In order to choose the flag bearer, captains from each team (16 on the U.S. Olympic squad) put forth a nominee followed by a secret vote amongst the athletes, where touching stories or long Olympic careers often earn votes over proven results.
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Perhaps that’s why, looking back on history, the odds aren’t so favorable for U.S. athletes hoping to take home a medal at the same Olympics they served as flag bearer.
Of the 21 past Winter Olympics, beginning in 1924 and ending in 2010, only six flag bearers have scored hardware at those same games. The last time this happened was when Cindy Nelson got a bronze medal in the women’s downhill event in 1976. Can Lodwick buck the trend?
Although Lodwick has two individual World Championship gold medals, his lone medal at the Winter Olympics was a silver in the 4x5-kilometer team event in Vancouver. Lodwick isn’t favored to pick up an individual medal in Sochi, but the Nordic combined team event could find Team USA on the podium.
Here is a look back on flag bearers of Olympics past, and their memorable (or not so memorable) showings at the Games following the opening ceremony.
From 1968 to 1976, flag bearers won a trio of medals and then the streak went cold.
Terry McDermott was chosen as flag bearer at the 1968 Grenoble Games, where he went on to win a silver medal in the 500-meter speedskating event. McDermott had been trying to defend his 1964 gold medal (the only gold medal the U.S. earned in Innsbruck), and the second-place finish didn’t come without controversy. McDermott had skated late, and the sun had started to soften the ice in the outdoor arena, but he still managed a remarkable time to earn second. Eventual gold medalist Erhard Keller admitted that McDermott had the best race of the day considering the conditions.
Coming off winning a silver medal in the 500-meter distance and a bronze in the 1,000 meters at the Grenoble Games, speedskater Dianne Holum was asked to carry the flag at the opening ceremony for the Sapporo Winter Olympics in 1972. She bested her previous showing, taking home gold in the 1,500 meters and silver in the 3,000 meters.
Although Cindy Nelson first made the U.S. Alpine skiing team in 1971, a dislocated hip prevented her from competing in Sapporo. She fought back to competition shape and was awarded the honor of flag bearer for the Winter Games in 1976, where she nabbed bronze in the women’s downhill. She has remained the last flag bearer to earn a medal at the same games, but maybe Sochi will be a different story.
After Nelson's appearance, some flag bearers were previous medal winners who failed to top the podium, while others found success after handling flag-bearer duties.
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He might be a household name now, but figure skater Scott Hamilton was essentially unknown when he was asked to carry the flag at the 1980 Lake Placid Games. However, he had a touching story about overcoming a childhood illness (Schwachman’s Syndrome), which stunted his growth and caused doctors to worry about a low life expectancy.
Hamilton’s background inspired his fellow Olympians, and he went on to place fifth at Lake Placid. Following Lake Placid, he went undefeated for four years (1981-1984). That stretch included four consecutive U.S. and World Championships, followed by a gold medal in the 1984 Winter Olympics, where he was the heavy favorite.
Biathlete Lyle Nelson wasn’t expected to make an appearance on the medal stand in 1988. Although Nelson was an eight-time national champion, biathlon at the time was dominated by the Russians. Nelson was, however, a perfect choice to raise the Stars and Stripes, as he was a major in the National Guard at the time of the Nagano Olympics.
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Chris Witty had an impressive Olympic resume, along with a heartbreaking background when she was asked to carry the flag for the 2006 Games. Witty won silver and bronze in the 1,000- and the 1,500-meter distance, respectively in the 1998 Nagano Games. She also earned a spot on the U.S. Summer Olympics team in 2000 as a cyclist and then came back two years later for the Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
Witty won gold in the 1,000-meter distance, set a new world record, and, oh, by the way, just a month prior to the Olympics, she had contracted mono, forcing her to cut back her training.
Additionally, before the 2006 Torino Games, Witty revealed that she was a victim of child abuse from a trusted neighbor for seven years, as part of a campaign to bring more attention to child-abuse prevention. After she carried the flag, she placed 28th in the 500 meters distance and 27th in the 1,000 meters.
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