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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Bobsledder Chris Fogt, skeleton slider Noelle Pikus-Pace and bobsledder Steve Holcomb (left to right) have been included in a poll asking which U.S. athlete should carry the American flag in the Sochi opening ceremony.

Carrying the U.S. flag into the Olympic opening ceremony is an honor that any American athlete would cherish.

While anyone can technically carry a country’s flag, usually it’s an athlete who epitomizes the Olympic ideas with a compelling story or a history of Olympic and international success.

NBC compiled a list of 13 candidates for the U.S.' 2014 flag bearer, and fans can vote for their favorite in an online poll. Of the 13 candidates (selected from 230 Olympic athletes), four are from Utah and three others live and train here. Those seven athletes all have moving personal stories and have made significant contributions to their sports and the Olympic movement.

Park City’s Steven Holcomb (bobsled), Alpine’s Chris Fogt (bobsled), Orem’s Noelle Pikus-Pace (skeleton), and Park City’s Lindsey Van (ski jumping) are the four Utahns on the list. Additionally, aerial skier Emily Cook, speedskater Shani Davis and cross-country skier Kikkan Randall spend a significant amount of time training in Utah.

While the poll is simply a way for fans to have some fun speculating, the athletes on the list were still moved to be suggested for the immense honor.

Cook, a three-time Olympian who is training with her teammates at Deer Valley resort this week, tweeted that it was an honor to simply be included in the conversation, while Fogt’s family hoped to create support for the Army captain, who served a year in Afghanistan (military intelligence) after competing in the 2010 Olympics.

"Each of the 230 members of Team USA are equally worthy of carrying the U.S. flag during (the) opening ceremony,” said Fogt’s brother-in-law, Jon Show, “but we felt that creating a campaign to elect Chris would be a great way to honor his continuing service to the military. There isn't a self-promotional bone in his body, so we're doing it for him."

His 2010 Olympic experienced ended when USA 2 crashed on its second run. Despite the pain of being dragged along the ice upside down, he said he didn’t let go because he thought of the soldiers he represents when he slides. He participates as part of the Army World Class Athlete Program.

Meanwhile, U.S. women’s ski jumping association president Deedee Corradini said Van, who led the fight for her sport’s inclusion into the Olympics, even suing (along with 14 other women) the Vancouver Organizing Committee unsuccessfully, represents more than sport.

“I think it would be a wonderful symbolic show of support if Lindsey Van were to be the flag bearer for the Sochi Winter Games,” Corradini said. “She’s not just a leader in ski jumping, she’s a leader for young women in sport all across the world.”

Holcomb overcame a degenerative eye disease and depression to win the first U.S. gold medal in four-man bobsled in 48 years in the Vancouver Olympics. In his career, he’s won 52 medals — half of those gold. Just this season, he’s won nine World Cup gold medals and one silver. This will be his third Olympics and second as the pilot of USA 1, also known as the Night Train.

Pikus-Pace won the first world championship in women’s skeleton for the U.S. in 2007, and had to battle back from a horrific injury when a runaway bobsled broke her leg just before Olympic trials for the 2006 Games. The 31-year-old mother of two competed in 2010 and was one-tenth of a second from the podium. Of the eight World Cups this season, she’s won four and is a heavy favorite heading into Sochi.

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In addition to the seven athletes who are from Utah or have strong Utah ties, there are some compelling candidates in U.S. hockey player Julie Chu, ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Nordic combined athlete Todd Lodwick, Alpine skier Bode Miller and snowboarder Shaun White.

While the United States Olympic Committee has its own system for selecting the athlete who will lead the U.S. delegation into the opening ceremony Friday, Feb. 7, the NBC poll offers fans a chance to vote for their favorite candidate. The voting, along with short bios of each athlete, can be found at nbcolympics.com.

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