Christine Sinclair’s 2012 sports awards triumphs a victory for us
Olympic women's soccer hero connected with Canadians on a level far deeper than mere goals and assists, galvanizing a nation
Burnaby's Christine Sinclair, the captain of Canada's women's soccer team, was named the flag bearer for the closing ceremony at the Canadian Olympic Committee closing press conference for the 2012 London Olympics on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012. Sinclair is the winner of the 2012 Lou Marsh Award. The 29-year-old Burnaby native led Canada to bronze at the London Olympics in spectacular fashion, scoring an Olympic-record six goals to win the Golden Boot.
Photograph by: Neil Davidson, THE CANADIAN PRESS
VANCOUVER — Score one for emotion.
Score one for je ne sais quoi over the bottom line.
Score one for how it made us feel, as a nation, for longer than our usual five-minute attention span.
Sports voting — for Halls of Fame, all-star teams, awards of all kinds — tends to get hung up on statistics, or the Big Prize, by which standards anyone who doesn’t lead the planet or win a championship, preferably both, must not have done the job.
But when Christine Sinclair sweeps all the major athlete-of-the-year awards in Canada this year — the CBC’s last week, the Lou Marsh on Monday, others surely still to come — it will not be for statistics alone, or for a championship at all.
It will be for galvanizing a nation, for making Canada stand up on its hind legs and howl about something few of us had any idea we cared about in the first place.
The statistics? Sure, they mattered, too. Scoring 23 times in a single soccer season, figuring in 66 per cent of all the goals Canada scored all year, isn’t too bad. Winning the Golden Boot at the London Olympics, scoring six goals, three of them in a 4-3 overtime loss to the United States that might be the greatest performance by a Canadian soccer player, male or female, ever ... those are numbers not to be ignored.
But if it were about pure achievement, speed skater Christine Nesbitt, with two world titles and a world record, would have won it. Or if not her, then cyclist Ryder Hesjedal, whose Giro d’Italia victory was unprecedented in Canadian history.
So what was it about Sinclair that allowed her to win the Lou Marsh on Monday, having led the Canadian women’s soccer team to a mere bronze medal?
Well, one thing the 29-year-old striker from Burnaby did — has done for years, but did most profoundly at the London Olympics — was lead a women’s sport to a place, in her country, above the men’s equivalent.
It’s no coincidence that she is the first soccer player in the 76-year history of the award to win the Lou Marsh.
It could never happen in hockey, where it’s all NHL and Stanley Cup, and the achievements of Hayley Wickenheiser and Danielle Goyette, of Jayna Hefford and Jen Botterill and Angela James and Cassie Campbell et al have been doomed to a secondary place of prominence on the country’s airwaves and sports pages — partly, of course, because so few nations play the women’s game, yet, at any serious level.
But in soccer, the men’s side has been an utter gong show for a couple of generations, despite enormous participation numbers, with little evidence of improvement in the offing, barring a total revamp of the development model. It is barely even a curiosity any more when the men play a qualifier on TV. They haven’t made it to a World Cup in 26 years, or an Olympics in 28.
Sinclair and the women’s team, meanwhile, have been to the last two Olympics and last three World Cups. And by nipping at the heels of the mighty United States team in the lead-up to the London Games, and then having the Yanks down 3-2 with a large boot on their necks at iconic Old Trafford in the dying seconds of a match that could have put them in the gold medal game — only to be denied by a series of appalling calls and non-calls — Sinclair and Co. made the whole country agonize right along with them.
She didn’t make the final three in voting for FIFA’s female player of the year, but when you think about it, even if there were no overt sportsmanship component to the FIFA vote, Sinclair’s omission there could hardly be considered a shock.
The same world governing body that suspended her four matches for abuse of an official, Norway’s overmatched Christina Pedersen, at the Olympics, could hardly be expected to whitewash that little technicality in conducting its own poll.
Fortunately, in Canada, our standards are not so narrow. We don’t consider it much of a negative for a captain of our national squad — who is superior in every other way, who is unselfish and rises to the occasion and doesn’t roll around on the turf as if felled by sniper fire every time she is touched by an opponent — to express our national rage when her team, our team, has just been jobbed.
Overwhelmingly, Canadians were glad Sinclair went off on the referee, with the able assistance of her even more combustible teammate, Melissa Tancredi.
Overwhelmingly, after an incident that in normal circumstances might have been a national embarrassment, the country rallied around Sinclair, and her fellow Olympians chose her to carry Canada’s flag in the closing ceremony.
After a bronze medal? Yup.
There will be those who question Sinclair’s selection Monday, but think about who else might have earned the award.
Nesbitt? World titles in ’tween seasons never have the same weight as an Olympics. Milos Raonic won tennis tournaments and rose to No. 13 in the world rankings, but pulled out of a Davis Cup tie and did not distinguish himself in majors. Hesjedal’s Giro d’Italia victory was a Canadian landmark, but against the tainted backdrop of international cycling, and he did nothing in London.
The Conn Smythe Trophy winner was an American, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. There was no Joey Votto or Larry Walker season from a baseball player this year, and Steve Nash’s MVP form is a thing of the past. And Jon Cornish, as good as the Stampeders running back was, rushed for only 57 yards, and had a costly fumble, in a Grey Cup loss.
Rosie MacLennan? You can’t do better than Olympic gold, and all credit to Canada’s lone winner in London, but it was in trampoline, and I’m guessing most Canadians struggled to remember her name a week later.
That’s not an issue with Christine Sinclair.
She connected with Canadians on a level deeper than any simple calculation of her goals and assists, or the colour of her medal. She may well have inspired an entire generation of little girls to dream big dreams.
If the voters were half this smart about the Hockey Hall of Fame, Paul Henderson would be in it.
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