Beijing • Brittany Bowe put good out into the world. During Friday’s opening ceremony for the 2022 Olympics, it came back to her.
Almost exactly a month after the speed skater gave up her spot in the 500 meters in Beijing so that teammate Erin Jackson could have the opportunity to race for a medal, Bowe and curler John Schuster led Team USA into Beijing National Stadium as the nation’s flag bearers.
“To carry the flag,” the Salt Lake City resident told The Tribune on Friday morning, “is literally the biggest honor of my entire life.”
But, she added, “at the same time, my heart hurts for Elana.”
That would be Elana Meyers Taylor, the 37-year-old bobsledder and new mom who won the athletes’ vote to be the nation’s female flag bearer. Bowe came in second in the voting. But Meyers Taylor is in quarantine after testing positive for COVID two days after arriving in China last week for the Winter Games. She hopes to be released by Feb. 18 to compete in the two-woman event — where she could be teamed up with Herriman’s Kaysha Love — but is sidelined in the meantime. So, she called up Bowe and asked the speed skater to take her place.
“I can’t think of a better honor, other than walking by myself, than having the opportunity to give to Brittany,” Taylor said in a video interview on the Today show Wednesday. “Brittany is an absolutely amazing human being.”
Bowe, a three-time Olympian, holds the world record in the 1,000 meters and has boldly stated she wants nothing less than gold in the event after taking fourth at that distance in the 2018 Games. She will be looking to medal the 1,500 as well. And, she learned late last month that she will get to race the 500 after all, despite initially surrendering her spot to Jackson.
Jackson is the world leader at that distance, but she slipped during the Olympic trials last month in Milwaukee, Wisc., and finished third — one spot out of qualifying for the Games. At first Bowe, the race winner, said she was certain US Speedskating would find a way to get Jackson to China. When it became clear it could be a couple of agonizing weeks before Jackson — who also hails from Bowe’s hometown of Ocala, Fla. — would get any clarity on her position, however, Bowe stepped up.
They were side by side Friday at the front of the line as Team USA’s large contingent marched in. Its 223 athletes, a third of which have strong ties to Utah, are the most any country has ever sent to the Winter Games.
Each sporting body nominates an athlete to be the flag bearer, and competing athletes then vote for their representative. Bowe, 33, was US Speedskating’s selection, and as a finalist, she was asked to explain why she wanted to be a flag bearer.
She said she wanted to “be proud and represent what our flag means to me, you know: sacrifice, freedom and opportunity. And that was really brought to the forefront for me last month when I had the freedom to choose to give somebody else an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Now, because another athlete is stepping aside, she is getting her moment to shine. The coincidence isn’t lost on her.
“I think everything happens for a reason,” she said. “And I think it’s wild that this situation has come to be after me, you know, sacrificing my spot for Erin. And it’s obviously different circumstances with Elana having to pull out. But it’s giving me an opportunity of a lifetime.
“It’s very crazy. I don’t really know how to put it into words, but yeah, the stars have definitely aligned in some fashion, that’s for sure.”
OPENING CEREMONY NOTES
• Nathan Chen wasn’t among the American athletes marching Friday. Chen said that as a precaution against COVID he wanted to avoid the crowds. Chen competed in the men’s short program as part of the team event that morning and could compete again Sunday in the free skate. The men’s singles program begins Tuesday.
• Nathan Ikon Crumpton, who lives in Park City, stole some attention away from his neighbors during the parade. The only athlete competing for American Samoa, which hasn’t sent anyone to the Winter Games in almost 30 years and followed the USA in the lineup, the skeleton racer appeared in full native garb.
In doing so, Crumpton revealed a similar amount of skin as that of the Tongan athlete Pita Taufatofua, who gained fame for walking in next to nothing during the 2018 ceremony. Taufatofua skipped these Olympics to help recovery efforts from the devastating tsunami that recently hit Tonga.Crumpton wore a similar outfit six months ago when he competed in the 100-meter dash for American Samoa. In Tokyo, however, the temperatures likely didn’t dip anywhere near the 22 degrees it was Friday night in Beijing National Stadium.
• Utah athletes walked for several nations other than the United States. Among the countries they are competing for are the Philippines, Ireland, Great Britain, Slovenia, Argentina, Brazil, Iceland, Australia, Canada and Estonia.