Fri, September 20, 2013

Olympic star Christine Sinclair should carry Canadian flag

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency


Canadian soccer star Christine Sinclair should be chosen to carry the Canadian flag at the Closing Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games, Steve Simmons says. (David Moir/Reuters)


LONDON - It only happens so often. An athlete steps up, beyond all capabilities, finds a way and a will and a skill to do what others cannot.

It’s easy to see when it’s Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt or anyone in a singular pursuit. It’s easy and it’s obvious. But it’s more difficult in a team sport, unless it’s the way Christine Sinclair took over these Olympics for Canada, on a team that’s probably not good enough, on a team that may or may not win a medal.

She took over the Games and became our most valuable Olympian.

In any sport, any event. No one else has jumped up and stolen the show, charmed a country, amazed the world, had the mighty Americans frozen in fear, the way Sinclair did in her Monday night soccer match of misfortune against Team USA. Her skills were known before. Her talents have been reasonably well documented.

But to do it here, on this stage, at this time, with so much at stake, frankly, is both enormous and superb.

I’ve been fortunate enough to cover every Olympic hockey tournament since 1988, and every summer Olympics since 1996 and I can’t think of a one-woman, one-athlete show in a team sport that would even compare to what Sinclair managed against the U.S.

It’s was the kind of show every Canadian athlete here noticed. Simon Whitfield talked about after his triathlon disappointment Tuesday. He felt horrible for himself, horrible for the manner in which Canada came to be defeated but his eyes lit up for the second he mentioned Sinclair.

Which should, in a way, be a passing of the torch for the Canadian Olympic team. Whitfield carried the flag in the Opening Ceremony, the kind of choice almost no one could dispute. With just four days until closing — and no matter what Adam van Koeverden manages in the early morning — the flag should go to Sinclair in the Closing Ceremony.

Because the flag should always go to the athlete who outperforms the rest of the Olympic team, the athlete who attains a brand new level, the athlete who leaves nothing of himself or herself on the court, the field, the venue.

Sinclair should get the flag whether Team Canada wins a soccer medal or not. By all rights, and with competent officiating, the Canadians should be playing for a gold medal in soccer. Whether emotionally and physically they can find a way to bounce back from what was the game of their lives is the looming question now.

But there can be no questioning Sinclair — even those who wonder about her post-game outburst that was not considered very Olympian. Think about it from your own terms: You score three goals in a soccer game, and you just don’t step up, and carry your team, and do everything but award yourself and your teammates a silver medal at least, and then you have it stolen from you?

Well, you might have a choice word or two to say, yourself.

What makes the greatest competitors who they are is they put every bit of themselves into their task. They don’t do the Mary Spencer thing and shrug at defeat the way Dion Phaneuf might on a Tuesday night in the middle of February.

There are no 82-game schedules in the Olympics. It’s quick, it’s decisive and often it’s revealing as hell. You are or you’re not. You have championship caliber or you don’t.

And historically, the Canadian Olympic Committee chooses its Closing Ceremony flag bearer on the basis of a number of things:

1. What kind of Olympics did they have? Often it goes to a multi-medal winner. Canada doesn’t have a multi-medal winner at this stage of the Games.

2. What kind of career has that athlete had representing Canada? In Sinclair’s case, while the soccer team has occasionally disappointed in larger events, she has normally done her part. Here, though, she stepped to a new level, grabbed the flag, pulled it along with her in the 4-3 defeat to the U.S. You can’t argue with her history as a national team athlete.

3. You want someone inspirational. the way Clara Hughes can be inspirational. To hear athletes talk about Sinclair, they were certainly inspired by her greatness. Those kinds of Olympians are rare.

And Christine Sinclair is indeed rare and deserves the flag at the Closing Ceremony. There isn’t another candidate, medal or no medal, who even comes close.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: simmonssteve