Sinclair still basking in glow of Olympic aura
Star in Calgary on weekend to address minor soccer players, talk about the future of Canadian soccer
The first inkling Christine Sinclair had of the scope of the achievement, its resonance within this country’s borders, came when the friendly Air Canada lady met the flight she and ‘keeper Karina LeBlanc arrived home on from London in late February.
“I’ll never forget it,” she says, still. “She goes: ‘Welcome home. Your lives will never be the same.’ And we’re like: ‘Um, what do you mean?’
“Then we go through customs and you hear this, this ... roar. This amazing sound. A couple of thousand people. Waiting for us. To see us. I mean, it was completely overwhelming. And it’s continued. Which is the surprise. The pleasant surprise.
“It’s been beyond all my expectations. Obviously after we won the bronze, we’re talking to family and they’re saying ‘Oh my gosh, it’s crazy here!’ And you’re like, ‘Yeah, right ...’
“And then you get home and it IS crazy.”
Wherever you might’ve meandered from last February on, it seemed the captain of Canada’s Olympic bronze-medal-winning soccer team was there.
In bookstores, on the cover of newspapers, magazines. Being feted with some prestigious national bauble or other. Pitching the wonders of Tide on the telly. Even when things didn’t go her way, such as being left off the shortlist of three for FIFA Women’s Player of the Year (“A travesty!” is how Canadian coach John Herdman described that slight), she made news.
In a single tournament, actually on one unforgettable night in Manchester on the fabled pitch at Old Trafford, Christine Sinclair morphed from a great player in a fringe sport to an authentic national presence. When she spoke out about at dodgy refereeing in that semifinal loss the U.S., and refused to back down on her controversial stance — a VERY un-Canadian-like thing to do — her popularity here at home, already mushrooming, grew even greater.
By any criteria, the woman had quite a year. Better than Stephen Harper’s. Better, maybe, than even the Biebs.
So, 2012: The Year of Christine Sinclair in Canada. Yes?
“Well, I think it was the Year of Women’s Soccer in Canada,” she corrects you. “To obviously had the year we had, to win an Olympic medal and for the interest in our game to sustain way it has. For instance the three of us here today.
“The support we get, the sheer number of people that want to speak to us, seeing the looks on the kids’ faces ... this is what we wanted. We wanted to leave a legacy and change the sport. And I think we’ve started that.”
Sinclair and Olympic bronze-medal-winning teammates LeBlanc and St. Albert’s Erin McLeod were here in town over the weekend as part of the 2013 CMSA Coaches Convention, hosted by the Calgary Minor Soccer Association.
This season, the greatest women’s soccer player this nation has yet produced is set to play for the Portland Thorns in the new eight-team National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Portland, of course, is where she went to university, netting a Division I NCAA record 39 goals in her All American senior year while graduating with a 3.75 grade point average in life sciences.
So this fit could not be finer.
“For me, personally, with the history I have there, I can’t wait. Going to school there, I never left. I love it. It’s close to home (Vancouver) but far enough away from home, you know?
“It’s also a soccer-crazy city. Talking to Karina, we’re so fortunate to be on the team together, we’re such great friends. It’s just going to be a blast. I can’t wait to show her the city and all my local hangout places.
“We’ve got the start of a great team. Also, the league, for Team Canada, is going to be so important. We’re going to have 16 players on contract and more signing. We could have anywhere between 18 and 20 national team players playing in the league.
“And that can only benefit our program.
“Residency is tremendous for a little bit. But there comes a point where you need to play a game that means something every weekend. I’ve missed that with the folding of the WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer). That’s how it should be.”
The focus has now shifted to another tourney, the 2015 Women’s World Cup to be hosted by Canada.
“Soccer is in the minds of Canadians right now. Because the world is coming in a couple of years. I think the buildup to it is only going to get bigger. We won’t lose this moment. It’s not something that’s going to be taken away.
“The World Cup is coming here, to Canada. How amazing is that?”
And Sinclair, the skipper, will lead her country out to, as she did a year ago in Coventry and Newcastle and Manchester. Out of the shadows and into the national consciousness.
To a year unlike any other.
“Well, I certainly can’t complain,” she laughs. “I got the medal I wanted ...” A pause. “Well, A medal I wanted.
“Besides the medal, personally, being named flag-bearer was the highlight, for sure. That was the bigger shock. It’s something you don’t ever envision happening. I remember watching as a kid watching Canada march into an Olympics and march out and thinking ‘That is so cool!’ To be asked, at an Olympic Games, how incredible.”
So, 2012: The best year?
Well, that has yet to be determined.
“As a team, we’re a lot more confident now. There’s just a different vibe. There’s this belief. (London) wasn’t just a fluke. It happened once. It can happen again.
“It’s no big shock when we beat the best teams in the world anymore. We’re a force to be reckoned with.”
A World Cup title, on home soil, then?
Brother, if 2012 was great, unbelievable, precedent-setting, is it maybe just possible 2015 could even surpass it?
“That,” replies Christine Sinclair, with just a wisp of a smile, “is the plan.”
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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