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Why Christine Sinclair Might Be the Most Important Canadian Athlete of Her Time

Why Christine Sinclair Might Be the Most Important Canadian Athlete of Her Time

Canadian Women’s Soccer Team Captain Christine Sinclair is perhaps best known for the hat-trick she scored in the semi-final match against the USA during the 2012 London Olympic Games. The team finished with a bronze medal from their match against France, with Christine setting herself apart as the tournament’s top scorer and the Canadian flag bearer at the Games’ closing ceremony. Off the field, Christine shares her enthusiasm for sport and her secrets of success with audiences everywhere. In this article from The National Post, the paper looks at why Christine could be the most important Canadian athlete of our time:

By 10:54 p.m., the stands had emptied, the air had cooled and the streets had grown quiet and dark. And still they remained, dozens of girls and boys and their families, leaning on parallel metal barricades that led from the stadium to an idling bus. It had been two hours since Canada beat England 1-0 in the final tune-up for the women’s World Cup. Many of the girls had the same number on their soccer jackets, No. 12. Christine Sinclair has worn No. 12 since she was scarcely older than the girls awaiting her arrival. When she emerged with the Canadian team that night in Hamilton, it was to a revival. She did two laps of the lines, signing autographs and leaning in for selfies amid the commotion. With the World Cup set to open in Canada on Saturday, National Post reporter Sean Fitz-Gerald explains her celebrity, and why she might be the most important Canadian athlete of her time:

Why should I care about Christine Sinclair?

She is the most successful soccer player this country has ever produced, male or female, and is among the best to have ever played in the women’s game. Now 31, Sinclair made her international debut as a 16-year-old, and has scored 153 goals while wearing a maple leaf on her chest. Only two players have scored more, and both of those players had the benefit of playing on American teams blessed with deeper, more talented rosters: Abby Wambach (182 goals) and Mia Hamm (158). No other Canadian player is close. Off the field, Sinclair is quiet, polite and pathologically humble. “You see her interacting with the young fans, she’s never turning them away for an autograph,” said long-time soccer analyst Dick Howard. “Really, you probably wish that everybody had a daughter like Christine Sinclair.”

So, she is pretty good, then?

Even Pellerud is the former Canadian team coach now working the sidelines for Norway, and Sportsnet magazine recently asked him how he would stop Sinclair if the teams met on the field at the World Cup. “I will tie a rope around Christine,” he said. “I’ve already packed it.” Sinclair can change the air in a stadium with the ball at her feet, thickening it with anticipation, or jolting it with electricity. She is thin and strong, with piercing blue eyes that can deaden, like a shark’s, when she attacks. In 2012, Sinclair scored 23 goals, which is a good career for some of the best Canadian players. That was the year she was awarded the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete, becoming the first soccer player to win. Sinclair has filled a room with awards. She is on Canada’s Walk of Fame. She is on a postage stamp. And in 2013, she received an honorary degree from Simon Fraser University. “Soccer is my vision,” she told the crowd. “And it is my joy.”

Didn’t she do something at the Olympics, too?

On Aug. 6, 2012, in a semifinal match against the United States at the London Olympics, Sinclair lifted the underdog Canadians onto her shoulders, and carried them through what became the signature event of her career. She scored first. The Americans answered. She scored again. The Americans answered back. And then, in the 73rdminute, she headed a corner kick into the net to give the Canadians a 3-2 lead. In celebration, she scarcely said a word, running back to the sideline stone-faced. The Canadians were ultimately undone by a controversial decision from the referee, losing 4-3 in extra time. Sinclair rarely does much motivational speaking in the locker room, but she spoke that day. “I told them I had never been more proud to be their teammate,” she told The Canadian Press. “And that if heading into London, somebody would have said ‘You’re going to be playing for a bronze medal,’ we would have taken it in a heartbeat. And I’m not leaving London without one.” They won the bronze, the first medal in more than 100 years for Canadian soccer.

Why don’t I see her on television more often, then?

Teammates have said she is the quiet one on the bus, in the meeting rooms and out on the road. Sinclair has grown to tolerate the spotlight, but she has never embraced it. “There’s some people who play the game for the attention,” said Kara Lang, a former teammate now working at TSN. “And that is not her agenda. She’s not doing this for anybody else. She’s doing it because she literally just loves the game.”

How did Canada produce a player like this?

A bit of luck, probably, and also genetics. Sinclair was born and raised in Burnaby, B.C., and was an aspiring baseball player who wore No. 12 because it was the number worn by her idol, Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Roberto Alomar. Sinclair was drawn back to soccer, though. Her mother, Sandra, coached her. Two uncles, Brian and Bruce Gant, had both played professional soccer. Brian Gant was actually on the national team for about a dozen games.

Sure, but most important Canadian athlete of her time?

When Sinclair was growing up, there were no obvious female role models in sports. The women’s soccer team was not selling out any stadiums. The women’s game did not have a presence on television. That has all changed. There is a generation of women who have grown up with an obvious role model, with an example to follow. When Sinclair and her team returned from London, parents raced to enroll children in coaching clinics featuring the Olympians. “The amount of people who have stopped and talked about the story, but who have also said, ‘Listen, if it wasn’t for Christine and those girls, my daughter might have dropped out of soccer,’ or, ‘My daughter has started to play soccer,’ or ‘She’s rejuvenated again, and as a family, we’re back into soccer,’” said Canadian coach John Herdman. “She’s reaching people of different backgrounds — from people who’ve never watched sports, people who’ve never watched soccer — and she’s just getting them,” said long-time teammate Karina LeBlanc. “And she’s inspiring them.”

Sean Fitz-Gerald/National Post/August, 2016