NEWS
10/04/2011 11:13 EDT | Updated 12/04/2011 05:12 EST

Soccer captain Christine Sinclair named Canada's flag bearer for Pan Am Games

TORONTO - Christine Sinclair is most at home on the pitch, where her powerful strikes have made her one of women's soccer's biggest stars and the face of the sport in Canada.

But the 28-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., will be front and centre of the entire Canadian team next week when she carries Canada's flag into the opening ceremonies of the Pan American Games.

"It's incredible, to be able to lead your country into a Games like this, it's a huge honour," Sinclair said at a news conference Tuesday in Toronto. "For me, it was all about participating in Olympics, Pan Ams, representing Canada. . . Never dawned on me to be the flag-bearer."

Sinclair is the most prolific goal-scorer in Canadian soccer history with 117 goals in 162 games. She led her team to a bronze medal at the 2007 Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and a fourth-place finish at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Sinclair provided one of Canada's few highlights on an otherwise disappointing women's World Cup performance this past summer, bouncing back to score on a beautiful bending free kick against Germany minutes after having her nose broken.

She'll lead a Canadian contingent of 493 athletes into the Omnilife Stadium in Guadalajara, Mexico for the Oct. 14 opening ceremonies, the second-largest delegation Canada has ever sent to the Pan Am Games.

"When Jacques (Cardyn, Canada's chef de mission) told me the news a couple of weeks ago, I was literally speechless, I didn't really know what to say," Sinclair said.

"One of the first things I did was call my grandmother, who I'm really close with, and she gave me a piece of very good advice. She said: don't trip."

Cardyn said when he contacted Sinclair to tell her she'd been selected Canada's flag-bearer, she politely asked him to call back in a few hours as she was busy coaching.

"She's devoted to her discipline, to her sport," Cardyn said. "She's a great person, and she'll be such a good model for the rest of our athletes and teams. I'm quite happy to have her."

The Pan Ams are a direct Olympic qualifier for 12 sports, among them field hockey, synchronized swimming and water polo.

For the women's soccer team they're a chance to get a few international games with new head coach John Herdman before the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in January in Vancouver.

"This is very important, this is our last chance to get things right before the Olympics and Olympic qualifying, and with the new head coach we don't have too much time to get on the same page," Sinclair said.

Canada went winless in the World Cup and was ousted after the preliminary round, and the reaction from fans back home was disappointment, Sinclair said.

"We were heading into the World Cup with high expectations. . . obviously that didn't work out," she said. "But for me, it's nice to know that people cared enough to be disappointed and that's a step in the right direction, whereas eight years ago, I don't think people would have really cared if we had crashed and burned out of a World Cup.

"But we're making progress and now we need to step it up when it matters."

Canada traditionally finishes in the top three at the Pan Am Games, which have been held every four years since they debuted in 1951 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Canadians were third in total medals four years ago in Brazil with 138, trailing the first-place U.S. and the host country.

Sinclair is just one of the more recognizable names on this year's version that also includes Olympic show jumping champion Eric Lamaze, shot putter Dylan Armstrong, who captured the Diamond League title this past summer, world boxing champion Mary Spencer, Karen Cockburn, a three-time Olympic medallist in trampoline, veteran shooter Susan Nattrass, and Carol Huynh, Canada's first Olympic gold medallist in women's wrestling for Canada.

Show jumper Ian Millar is the team's oldest athlete at 69, while Anqi Luo, a 15-year-old table tennis player from Mississauga, Ont., is the youngest.

Some 6,000 athletes from 42 countries in 39 sports in the Games that end Oct. 30. Canada will be represented in all sports except basque pelota.

Toronto will host the 2015 Pan Am Games.