TORONTO — Georges St-Pierre is Sportsnet’s Canadian Athlete of the Year for an unprecedented third year in a row, beating out 2007 winner Sidney Crosby in the final of an online fan vote.
St-Pierre’s path to his third-straight award was not an easy one the third time around. Competing against 15 other Canadians in a bracket-style tournament to determine the winner, readers voted for their choice through four head-to-head rounds over the course of 16 days.
“Winning the Rogers Sportsnet Canadian Athlete of the Year award for the third time means a lot to me,” St-Pierre told sportsnet.ca. “This year there were a lot of nominees that I really respect, so I am honoured that the fans chose me. Thanks to all my fans for their support.”
The 29-year-old mixed martial artist from Saint-Isidore, Que., beat out Olympic gold-medallist Maelle Ricker in the opening round before a tough date with NL MVP Joey Votto, who also won this year’s Lou Marsh Award as top Canadian athlete voted by the media.
After getting past Votto, St-Pierre had to beat out first-time Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Toews, who was also named Best Forward at the 2010 Olympic Hockey tournament in February en route to Canada taking gold in Vancouver.
The win over Toews set up the rivalry our readers have become accustomed to: GSP vs. Crosby.
In what may have been his biggest challenge yet, he was up against Crosby, who orchestrated the most memorable moment of 2010 for Canadian sports fans when he scored “the golden goal” the overtime winner in the Olympic Hockey final to lift Canada over the U.S.
The Pittsburgh Penguins captain has also been on a tear in this season’s NHL campaign, scoring 21 goals and 21 assists in a current 21-game point streak with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“The format of the voting process was changed over previous years and GSP had the most difficult path to winning, but it didn’t matter, he was still able to win,” said Nelson Millman, Executive Producer of Rogers Sportsnet. “(UFC President) Dana White claimed he is now more popular world wide than Wayne Gretzky, and once again MMA fans showed their passion and loyalty to one of their champions.”
Just like the last couple of years, votes fell in favour of the man whose dominance over his opponents in his division has become nearly second to none. St-Pierre went 2-0 in defending the UFC welterweight title over top opponents in Dan Hardy and Josh Koscheck.
St-Pierre’s win in December put the fighter in the spotlight, a five-round decision over the trash-talking Koscheck in Montreal.
“I have always said that GSP is not only a great champion and a great athlete, he is a great human being,” UFC President Dana White said. “Not only does he represent his title and the sport well, he is also an incredible representative for Canada. I am so happy to see him get what he deserves. Congratulations Georges St-Pierre.”
St-Pierre’s cause was also aided by the strong connection the UFC and MMA and its fans have with social media, which opened up avenues to boost the votes. St-Pierre himself posted a link on his Twitter account (@Georgesstpierre), providing his fans (and near 100,000 followers) a convenient way to cast their support for him.
With his repeat victory last year, St-Pierre had joined Steve Nash as the only back-to-back winners of the award (Nash took the title in 2005 and 2006). But St-Pierre, who is ranked by many as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, now stands alone as the only person to three-peat as Sportsnet’s Canadian Athlete of the Year.
“I sincerely thought Georges was going to have a difficult time three-peating, but again, it just goes to show you that even during an Olympic year, our hockey crazed country still believes he is the Athlete of the Year,” Joe Ferraro, host of Sportsnet’s MMA Connected said of the decisive victory.
Congratulations to St-Pierre and look for the UFC champ to go for the four-peat next December.