Christine Sinclair is the face of Canadian women’s soccer and one of the most influential figures for thousands of aspiring young athletes across the country.
If those two facts weren’t prevalent before 2012, they were emphatically driven home as the year progressed to the London Olympics.
Ultimately, a remarkable season led to Sinclair’s selection as CBCSports.ca’s Canadian Athlete of the Year by our readers on Saturday — an honour announced by Sports Weekend host Scott Russell.
The soccer star was humbled to be named the winner, but refused to take all the credit.
"It's a tremendous honour to have the fans recognize myself for such [accomplishments]," she told Russell. "I think this goes to show what our team did this summer in London. Had our team not had the success we had, this wouldn't have been possible. I owe pretty much everything to my teammates.
"It was a remarkable ride we were on."
Canadians participated in record numbers with 136,534 votes — the most of any single CBCSports.ca poll — deciding the fate of six candidates, including one figure skating duo.
The results broke down this way: Sinclair (63,230); cyclist Ryder Hesjedal (53,813); ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (8,177); trampolinist Rosie MacLennan (5,913); figure skater Patrick Chan (4,134); and bobsledder Kaillie Humphries (1,267).
The voting was competitive from the onset as Sinclair and Hesjedal exchanged leads for the first three days. But Sinclair began to pull away by Monday and never looked back.
Canadian Soccer Association General Secretary Peter Montopoli was quick to offer praise to the striker, saying she was an ambassador for the sport.
"The Canadian Soccer Association would like to congratulate Christine on the terrific recognition presented to her by the fans who voted in this year's [CBCSports.ca] Canada's Athlete of the Year poll," Montopoli said in a release. "It is a tribute to Christine and her teammates for all that they have done in both our national and international sporting communities in 2012."
The Burnaby, B.C., native began her spectacular 2012 with four goals against Haiti on Jan. 19 during the first day of the CONCACAF Olympic women’s soccer qualifying tournament in Vancouver.
It climaxed with her memorable hat trick against the Americans in the semifinal of the Summer Games in London. Despite the heartbreaking loss, Sinclair guided Canada to its first-ever Olympic soccer medal after Diana Matheson's dramatic goal in the 92nd minute against France in the bronze-medal match — the nation’s first medal in a traditional team sport at the Summer Olympics since 1936.
She was then the slam-dunk choice by the Canadian Olympic Committee for Canada’s flag-bearer at the closing ceremony.
Sinclair set a personal mark for most goals in a season (23,) and broke an Olympic record with six tallies en route to her only medal at a major tournament.
How important was she to Canada’s success on the international stage?
With her 23 goals and six assists in 22 matches, Sinclair was responsible for 65.9 per cent, or 29 of 44, of Canada’s offence in 2012.
The star striker eclipsed another Canadian single-season record by scoring in 14 different matches — a stretch that saw Canada win 12 of those games. For her career, Sinclair stands at 143 international goals, which ranks third behind Americans Amy Wambach (148) and Mia Hamm (158).
“For Sinclair, it was the best year by the best player Canada has ever produced — on the men or women's side,” said CBCSports.ca soccer writer Ben Rycroft.
“Her performance at the Olympics will serve to inspire the next generation of soccer stars in Canada, and it will give life to this program for years to come.”
Olympics cement Sinclair’s legacy
Of all the 29-year-old accomplished in 2012, her mesmerizing performance at the London Olympics cemented her legacy. Aside from leading the tournament in goals, Sinclair played the game of her life on Aug. 6 against the U.S., in one of the most thrilling and hotly contested battles of the Olympics.
On three separate occasions in regulation time, Sinclair gave Canada a one-goal lead — all in picturesque fashion. The Americans would rally each time, and in the end, prevailed 4-3 in extra time before beating Japan in the gold-medal match.
The game was not without controversy after Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen made two highly questionable calls that allowed the U.S. women to tie the contest late in regulation time.
A frustrated Sinclair let her feelings be known after the game, telling reporters, “the ref decided the result before it started.”
FIFA would eventually suspend Sinclair four games and fine her $3,500 for her actions, and many believe the organization added further punishment when voters omitted her from the final Player of the Year list — a trio that features Americans Wambach and Alex Morgan, along with Brazil's Marta.
The clear snub prompted Canadian women’s coach John Herdman to call the vote a “travesty.”
"A player who can score a hat trick in a semifinal and lead her country to the first [Olympic team] medal since 1936, the first time Canada's ever been on a [soccer] podium at one of these events, and still be one of the leading scorers in the world … and she can't get in the top three,” he said.
"There's something wrong somewhere.”
There was no travesty on Saturday for Canada's Athlete of the Year.