Catharine Pendrel: Canada's choice for Olympic flag bearer

For the past two weeks, CBCSports.ca has asked the question: Who should be Canada’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics on July 27?

We got a surprising answer, to say the least. But first, a little background.

For a fun way of finding out who Canadians want to carry their flag, we set up a bracket-style tournament featuring 16 of the country’s finest Olympic athletes — eight men on one side, eight women on the other. Each day, we pitted two of these worthy candidates against each other and asked you to vote on who you’d like to see advance to the next round.

The response was incredible. The final matchup between triathlete Simon Whitfield and mountain biker Catharine Pendrel drew more than 34,000 votes, bringing the total for the tournament up past 138,000.

The athletes got into the spirit, too. Whitfield, Pendrel, Adam van Koeverden, Karen Cockburn and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep were among the contestants who took to Twitter to share the link and ask for your support (or, in the case of the gracious van Koeverden, encourage you to vote for the other guy). Even marathon runner Reid Coolsaet, who wasn't in the bracket (sorry, Reid), tweeted daily about the latest developments.

The voting fever spread beyond the Olympic community too, with one famous athlete in particular catching our eye. Steve Nash tweeted last week in support of a fellow Victorian: “Vote for my friend, Olympic Triathlon Gold medalist, Simon Whitfield to carry the flag for Canada in London!”

It’s possible the two-time NBA MVP tipped the scales, because in the men’s final Whitfield defeated popular show jumper Ian Millar by a stunningly thin margin of 11 total votes in a poll that drew more than 29,000 responses.

But not even Nash could help his pal in the tournament final, where Whitfield met his match against the Cinderella of our ball, Catharine Pendrel.

The mountain bike world champion — seeded No. 8 on the women’s side and only in the tournament as a replacement after the sudden retirement of rower Tracy Cameron — knocked off top-seeded soccer star Christine Sinclair in the first round before toppling Cockburn and multisport star Clara Hughes to win the women’s division.

Pendrel capped her shocking run with her most improbable upset, getting 50.79 per cent of your votes in the final to beat Whitfield by just 544 votes.

Afterwards she tweeted: "Thank you Canada & cycling fans for voting me as people's choice for flag bearer. You honor and inspire me!"

What can we say, Catharine? Congratulations, and we should have had you in the bracket from the beginning.

In fact, Canadians would do well to remember the name Catharine Pendrel when the Olympics begin. As the reigning women's mountain bike world champion and the winner of last year's Olympic test event in London, the native of tiny Harvey, N.B., is a top contender for a gold medal.

As for which athlete will actually get the honour of carrying the Maple Leaf in London, we should mention that the Canadian Olympic Committee isn't affiliated with our poll, so of course they're not bound in any way by these results.

But now we know where Canada stands.