Fri, September 20, 2013

Olympic star Christine Sinclair ready for fame back home

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency


Christine Sinclair, leader of the Canadian women's soccer team, poses with her bronze medal during a press conference at the London 2012 Olympic games Friday. (AL CHAREST/QMI AGENCY)


LONDON - Watching Christine Sinclair, eyes blazing as she dominates the pitch, rarely brings to mind thoughts of the late Princess Diana.

But when John Herdman took over as coach of the Canadian women’s soccer team, he saw some of Lady Di’s charisma in his captain. He introduced a committee of a half-dozen key players to serve as a leadership core and Sinclair, the talented epicentre of the sport in Canada, was a part of it.

“We described the type of leaders they were. They all are different, very different. From your Margaret Thatcher to your Mother Teresa to your Lady Diana. You’ve all got different powers here of influence,” he told them.

And which was Sinclair?

“She’s your Princess Diana,” Herdman said. “She just attracts people because of who she is. She just has this presence of humbleness and a beauty within that as well, you know? But when she’s asked to fight on a football pitch, she’ll stand her ground and she’ll fight for our cause. She’s special, very special. I think all these girls are.”

Sinclair is the biggest star on the team that has become the biggest story for Canada in these Olympic Games.

The 29-year-old from Burnaby has become the queen of these Games for Canada, though she admitted Friday, the day after winning bronze in an unlikely victory over France, she has no idea what awaits her and her teammates when she gets home, no concept of the way Canadians embraced her team.

“I don’t think as players we fully understand what’s been happening back home. Even just arriving back in the (athletes) village last night and seeing our fellow Canadian team members, they were like: ‘You have no idea what’s been going on,’ and those are people that are here,” Sinclair told QMI Agency.

“I can’t wait to get home and see my family, but I have no idea what to expect.”

She can expect a nation that fell in love with a scrappy team that left its hearts and tears on the legendary pitch at Old Trafford Monday, losing a horribly officiated match to the Americans in extra time and losing its shot at a gold medal. Sinclair scored three times in the game.

She had a touch that started the play that led to the winning goal by Diana Matheson with seconds left in added time during Thursday’s bronze-medal game.

Sinclair’s performance here and what she has meant to the national team have her in the discussion over who should be Canada’s flagbearer at the Closing Ceremony.

“She’s a special woman,” Herdman said. “Canada has been privileged to watch her play for these many years. I think there has been a bit of a void in her career and that was filled (Thursday).

“I think (Thursday) and particularly the heartbreak against the United States, that’s legendary stuff. It’s just unbelievable.”

She grew up in Burnaby, B.C., wanting to be like her older brother, Michael, with whom she shared a newspaper route and a love of sports. Michael played for the national men’s soccer team as did two uncles, Brian and Bruce Gant.

“(Michael) was the reason I got into sports. I wanted to do everything he did,” said Sinclair, who also played baseball and, as a second baseman, idolized Roberto Alomar of the Toronto Blue Jays.

“Growing up, we didn’t have female role models to look up to, especially in athletics. Hopefully we’ve changed that. Hopefully now young girls can dream of being the next Rhian Wilkinson. As John said, we want the young girls to dream of being in the Olympics, getting a medal around their neck, representing their country. If we’ve given those girls the opportunity, just the belief that it can happen, I think we’ve done our job.”

Wonderfully.

But the job’s not done yet.

Sinclair, who described herself as shy, doesn’t know if she’s ready to handle what’s waiting at home.

Some people chase fame, others have it chase them.

“I’m like in the middle. I understand that it’s my role. I understand that this is a huge step if we want to change this sport in Canada. Myself, the team, we’re now in a position where we can have an impact on young kids. I think it’s something we welcome. Some of us won’t be comfortable with it, but that’s all right,” she said.

“It’s just that I’m shy. I sort of keep to myself. But whatever is needed and required of me to help, I’m all there.”

Just like she has been for Canada for the last decade. Her performance against the U.S. will go down as one of Canada’s best at the Olympic Games, but Sinclair said she is still too close to it to appreciate its place.

“Personally, it was one of the best games I ever played yet we lost and not only did we lose, we lost a shot at a gold medal.

“I think in maybe a couple of weeks or a couple of months, looking back on what I was able to do in that game at Old Trafford, against the best team in the world, maybe it will mean something then.”

The emotions of that game still resonated when the Canadians got off their bus from Coventry, where they won the bronze and arrived at Wembley Stadium to receive their medals.

Making it just a little tougher to take were the T-shirts the Americans wore after their victory. They read: “Greatness has been found.”

“They’re the three-time gold medallists now. I don’t think I necessarily would have made that shirt for myself, but I haven’t won three gold medals so I don’t know,” said Sinclair.

Did the shirts cause some chatter among the Canadians?

“Maybe a little.”

Sinclair posed for a couple more photographs by Sun photographer Al Charest, holding the medal close to her face and those clear, blazing eyes.

She held the medal out.

“Don’t they kind of look like they’re filled with chocolate?” she said.

Sure.

And even sweeter.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

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