She does not seek the spotlight, but it always, invariably, finds her. She has been unconditionally dedicated to the Canadian cause -- mostly in the years between the Olympics, not during. And she is a virtuoso athlete, one who rises above the rest and one who excels in moments of need.
Christine Sinclair, the tournament-leading six-goal scorer in women's soccer at the Olympics, meets the criteria of what many Canadians consider necessary in the role of a captain. But she has done something more, beyond the pitch in these London Games: in Canada's 4-3 semi-final loss against the eventual gold medalists in the United States, Sinclair scored three goals and took responsibility, as she has done in 12 years as a member of the Canadian soccer program, for a team that desperately needed her.
She captured the imagination of her players. She captured the thoughts of a country glued. Canadians stopped and watched the game at the recommendation of friends. Go, some would say. Do it now. Some were new to the game; others were regulars. And isn't that the point of competition: to bring together a people and rouse a sense of patriotism, even if in defeat? But it wasn't a celebration of a loss. It was a celebration of the Canadian ideal; that, in the face of adversity, you don't stop trying, don't stop caring, don't stop hoping.
Even last year, in the 2011 World Cup in which Canada left the tournament without a win, Sinclair, stubborn and unyielding, played through a broken nose and heartbreak.
Even she asked herself, after years of preparation, when would the reward come? When would all the hard work pay off? It did on Thursday, when the Canadians beat France in extra time to claim the bronze medal -- the first medal won by a Canadian team since 1936. The prize was not gold, but Sinclair would not change a thing. It was the crowning jewel of a career full of obstacles, setbacks and doubts, not simply the result of a trying fortnight.
Her and coach John Herdman, not a full year into the job, have looked at times like two combatants who have fought back-to-back for years in the face of incredible odds. After Sinclair clinched her hat-trick and opened up a 3-2 lead over the U.S., she ran to Herdman and just stared, eyes wide, without a word said. Herdman hugged her. The ferocity of the moment was great. And that is what Sinclair has done: reserved, without saying much, Sinclair, as the second-highest all-time scorer in the history of women's soccer, dared to dream. She thrilled.
Though she lost, though Sinclair and her teammates were not interested in moral victories, Herdman, always proud of his players, reminded them how fearless they were in the face of an intimidating foe. "We let the girls have a good crack at it and finish it with honour," he told reporters after the game.
Sinclair showed the way. And she should do it again on Sunday as Canada's flag-bearer in the Closing Ceremony. The rest of the candidates, competitors in individual sports, are no lesser athletes or Canadians. Sinclair, playing a team sport, simply had more of an opportunity to lead.
And after all, waving the flag should not so much be a reward for an athletic achievement as a reminder of what Sinclair actually represents: a leader in the venue of sport. Rosannagh MacLennan, Canada's only gold medalist in these games in trampolines, Simon Whitfield, who crashed in his final Olympic run but, in so many Games of the past as a gold- and silver-medal winner, a golden standard for athletes in the triathlon, and Emilie Heymans, the first female diver to win medals in four separate Olympics, all had watershed moments of their own.
But Sinclair has endured as much as she has competed. She has always forged ahead of the pack, grabbing the reins. Even if she is shy to say it, she wants to wave the flag. Many in Canada want her to, too, but on only one condition: "I'd want my teammates right there with me."
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