Jan 23 (Reuters) - Hayley Wickenheiser, who has helped Canada to three Olympic ice hockey gold medals, was named on Thursday as her country's flag-bearer for next month's Sochi Winter Games.
Once named one of Sports Illustrated's Top 25 Toughest Athletes in the World, Wickenheiser will be making her fifth Olympic appearance as Canada goes for a fourth straight gold.
A two sport athlete, Wickenheiser was also a member of Canada's Olympic softball team at the 2000 Sydney Games.
The Canadian Olympic Committee, who made the announcement at Ottawa's Parliament Hill, had a large number of worthy athletes to choose from for the honour.
Sidney Crosby, who scored the winning goal for the Canadian men's ice hockey team in the gold medal match in Vancouver, had been gaining considerable support.
Freestyle moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau, who captured Canada's first gold medal in Vancouver, was also believed to be in the running along with downhiller Erik Guay, the country's most successful alpine skier of all-time.
Long-track speedskater Clara Hughes carried the flag in the 2010 opening ceremony while figure skater Joannie Rochette, who took a bronze just days after the death of her mother, handled flag-bearer duties at the closing ceremony.
Wickenheiser is considered one of her sport's pioneers, having played with and against men in professional leagues in Finland and Sweden.
The 35-year-old forward became the first female hockey player to score a point in a men's professional game while representing Kirkkonummen Salamat in the Finnish second division and has played division one men's hockey in Sweden.
The opening ceremony in Sochi will take place on February 7. (Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Julian Linden)