Sinclair named Sportsnet’s Athlete of the Year

December 13, 2012, 1:30 PM

TORONTO — The seeds were first planted last summer.

That’s when you just knew that 2012 was always going to be Christine Sinclair’s year. After a disastrous 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup that saw Canada finish in last place, Sinclair was determined to make things right.

And so it came to pass.

The quest began in January during the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying competition in Vancouver, where she scored a tournament-high nine goals and helped Canada qualify for the London Olympics.

More goals would follow for the 29-year-old native of Burnaby, B.C. – 23 in total for the calendar year – including the six she scored in London to set an Olympic record and win the Golden Boot as the competition’s top scorer.

But it was her hat trick in a memorable extra-time semifinal loss to the United States that became the defining moment of her career. Her performance against the Americans in a losing effort was THE talking point of the Games for Canadians, as Sinclair cemented her legend as a sports icon in this country.

She and her teammates would go on to beat France to claim the bronze medal, Canada’s first medal in a traditional team sport at the Summer Olympics since 1936. But in the eyes of millions of Canadians, Sinclair was a gold medal champion after her gutsy display at the Olympics. Little wonder that she served as Canada’s flag-bearer at the closing ceremonies in London.

It was for these reasons that Sinclair has been named the 2012 Sportsnet Canadian Athlete of the Year, beating three-time Sportsnet champion (’08, ’09, ’10) and UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, tennis sensation Milos Raonic, cyclist Ryder Hesjedal, the CFL’s Jon Cornish and Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steve Stamkos.

Sinclair follows figure skating star Patrick Chan, who won the award in 2011. In honour of the win, Sportsnet is donating $10,000 to Sinclair’s charity of choice.

The selection of Sportsnet’s tenth annual Canadian Athlete of the Year was made through a combination of fan submissions on Twitter and a final deliberation by a panel of contributors from Sportsnet TV, radio, web and magazine.

“It’s an absolutely huge honour, and unexpected,” Sinclair said. “There were some tremendous performances by Canadian athletes this year. It just goes to show what our team was able to do. It was something pretty special.”

The bronze medal at the Games was impressive, but it could have been so much more for Sinclair. A controversial decision by a Norwegian referee gave the Americans a life line in that seminal showdown at Old Trafford, and ultimately tipped the balance in their favour.

Though the U.S. won, nobody could deny Sinclair was the star of the show. Her magical skills were on full display before a world-wide audience, but it was the way she pressed forward in spite of the unfairness of the officiating, with heart and determination, that left no doubt about her undeterred fighting spirit.

Steve Maich, publisher and editor-in-chief of Sportsnet magazine, explained that Sinclair took the honour because she was the athlete who galvanized the entire country in 2012.

“She did it not only by being an incredibly strong player, but also showing the kind of courage and grit that this country admires. After the travesty of the game against the U.S. in London, she led that team back out onto the field and performed like champions. Never has a bronze medal felt more like a gold. Bottom line, she made us proud to be Canadian,” Maich stated.

Despite her popularity, Sinclair remains humble and down to earth, and not the least bit caught up in her growing celebrity.

“I’ve known Christine Sinclair since she was a shy teenager who let her soccer boots do all the talking. She has since developed into someone with that rare ability to transcend her sport beyond its traditional boundaries. She retains much of that youthful shyness and humility combined with the talent that has elevated her to the status of soccer icon,” Sportsnet commentator Gerry Dobson said.

How good is Sinclair? She’s one of the best ever to play the women’s game, a fact underscored by her 143 career international goals that rank her third all-time and second among active players behind American Abby Wambach (148).

“Christine Sinclair stands at the very top of a global sport. She is on a short list of the greatest female athletes ever to have played the game,” Sportsnet’s Stephen Brunt recently wrote.

“All of that has been true for some time now, and she should still be near peak form when Canada hosts the next World Cup in 2015. But only in this year did Canadians really pay attention, did Canadians really understand what they have in their midst.”

Indeed.

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