Basketball’s Ayim, rugby’s Hirayama to carry Canadian flag into unique Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony

Basketball's Ayim, rugby's Hirayama to carry Canadian flag into unique Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Rugby sevens co-captain Nathan Hirayama, left, and basketball player Miranda Ayim, right, were chosen as Canada’s flag-bearers for the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony on Monday. (Instagram/CBC Sports)

When Team Canada enters a near-empty Olympic Stadium to officially kick off Tokyo 2020 on Friday, it will be led by Miranda Ayim and Nathan Hirayama.

The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) announced Monday that Ayim, a basketball player, and Hirayama, a member of the men’s rugby sevens squad, are the country’s flag-bearers for the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony.

Ayim and Hirayama mark Canada’s first duo from different sports to earn the honour after the International Olympic Committee made an amendment in March to allow each country to designate one male and one female. Ice dancers Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue led Canada into the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

“I feel so honoured to represent Team Canada and lead Team Canada in the opening ceremony alongside Nate,” Ayim said Monday in a video conference. “This past year and a half has demanded a high level of teamwork, and Canadians from coast to coast to coast stepped up and demonstrated togetherness, resilience and solidarity.”

Ayim, 33, is one of three Canadian basketball players set to compete at her third Olympics. The Chatham, Ont., native previously announced plans to retire after Tokyo.

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Currently ranked fourth in the world by FIBA, Canada fell in the quarter-finals of each of Ayim’s first two Olympics but now seems primed to play for a medal.

The women’s basketball tournament begins July 26 when Canada takes on Serbia at 4:20 a.m. ET and runs through the gold-medal game on Aug. 8.

Hirayama, also 33, has played for the national sevens team since debuting as an 18-year-old in 2006. Fifteen years later, the Richmond, B.C., native and team co-captain will make his Olympic debut. The men’s team did not qualify for the Rio Olympics in 2016, when sevens was added as an event.

Hirayama’s father, Garry, earned 12 caps for Canada between 1977 and 1982, making them the first father-son duo to play for the national team in rugby.

“It’s a massive honour to be asked to do this, especially alongside someone as decorated and (who) has had the kind of career Miranda has had,” Hirayama said. “Very excited to get over there with my squad and get into these Games.”

Hirayama sits third in career scoring in the rugby sevens World Series. Canada enters the Olympics ranked eighth, but it placed third in its final tournament of 2020 before the pandemic cut the season short.

The sevens team opens its Games with a pair of matches on July 26 against Rio runner-up Britain and champion Fiji. The tournament is a short one, with medals set to be won on July 28.

“Seeing two tremendous leaders like Miranda and Nathan now ready to guide the way into the Opening Ceremony for Team Canada is something incredibly special,” Eric Myles, chief sport officer of the COC, said in a release.

The reveal of Canada’s flag-bearers was made Monday morning by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Miranda and Nathan are leaders on their respective teams,” Trudeau said. “They embody the resilience, perseverance and excellence of Team Canada.”

Opening ceremony like no other

You can watch live coverage of the opening ceremony on CBC-TV and beginning at 6:30 a.m. ET. Broadcasts will be provided in eight different Indigenous languages in addition to English, American Sign Language and described video.

There won’t be any fans at the ceremony — spectators are barred from all venues as Tokyo remains in a state of emergency due to COVID-19 — but a crowd of about 10,000 IOC members, government officials and others is expected to be in attendance in the 68,000-seat Olympic Stadium.

It remains unclear whether the number of participants in the ceremony will be limited for the traditional Parade of Nations, which usually features thousands of athletes walking into the stadium.

Athletes are only permitted into the Olympic Village five days before their competition, and many who compete in the days immediately following the opening ceremony prioritize rest over pageantry.

Rowing duo Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle were the first Canadian pair to be named flag-bearers when they were awarded the honour at the 1996 closing ceremony in Atlanta. Figure skaters Jamie Salé and David Pelletier were closing flag-bearers in 2002 in Salt Lake City, and bobsledders Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse led Team Canada to close the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

Canada’s first 21 opening ceremony flag-bearers were men before skier Nancy Greene served in the role at the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, France.

Since then, Canada has evenly divided the duty between men and women, with 14 each.

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