08/12/2012 07:47 EDT | Updated 10/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Christine Sinclair's Olympic performance garners nod for flag-bearer

LONDON - An athlete who had the performance of her life in defeat, yet helped make history for Canada, was chosen the country's flag-bearer for the closing ceremony of the Summer Games.

Women's soccer team captain Christine Sinclair scored three times in a heartbreaking 4-3 loss in extra time to the United States in the semifinal. She expressed what many Canadians felt at home by publicly roasting the Norwegian referee afterwards.

Emotionally drained and still smarting three days later, the women made history by capturing bronze for Canada's first Olympic medal in a classic team sport since 1936.

Sinclair reinforced her image at these Olympics as a woman who won't back down on or off the pitch.

"Our goal heading into these Olympics was to try and change the sport of soccer and to try and change female athletics within Canada," Sinclair said at the Canadian Olympic Committee's closing news conference.

"I hope we've started to do that."

Sinclair was selected as flag-bearer ahead of trampoline gold medallist Rosannagh MacLennan and diver Emilie Heymans, who won her fourth medal in four Olympics.

Proud, world-class, fierce, relentless and unbreakable were the mantras of the Canadian team coming into London, according to chef de mission Mark Tewksbury, who said Sinclair fit those five qualities.

Tewksbury had a difficult time reaching the 29-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., on Saturday night because Sinclair was at Olympic Stadium watching track and field.

"Our cell phones don't work in a lot of the venues," Sinclair explained. "When I got away from the stadium, all of a sudden my phone just blows up. I've missed calls and texts and one of them is from Mark."

Tewksbury asked Canada's all-time leading goalscorer if she would be willing to bear the Maple Leaf.

"I started crying," she said. "You never expect this. I remember being a little kid. It's one thing to win a medal at the Olympics. Now, this, all of this is unexpected."

Flag-bearers are asked to keep mum on their appointment until they are introduced by the COC, but Sinclair couldn't resist one indulgence.

"I broke another rule and I called my mom," she said. "My mom doesn't know how to use Twitter."

The women's soccer team spent little time in London as their matches were in Coventry, Newcastle and Manchester. Sinclair felt connected to the Olympic team as a whole, however.

"Watching fellow teammates in tears as they're watching other Canadian athletes, witnessing their successes and failures, it's been moving to witness the connection this team has," Sinclair said.

After crashing out of last year's World Cup with three losses, and a subsequent change in coaches, an Olympic medal in London looked like a longshot for the Canadian women.

Sinclair and the women's soccer team are now celebrated at home, and well positioned in the public consciousness when Canada hosts the 2015 World Cup.

"This has obviously been a very successful Olympics for myself and my teammates, especially after last summer I don't think any of us thought we'd get an Olympic medal only a year later," Sinclair said.

"For it to have gotten so huge back home, while all these other sports are happening at the same time, I don't think any of us expected. I have no idea what to expect at home."

Sinclair plans a breather post-London. She'll retrieve her car in Vancouver where the Canadian team was training prior to the Games and then she'll head to her home in Portland, Ore.

"I'm taking the fall off," Sinclair said. "I need a little bit of a break."

"The build up for the next World Cup will start come January. This is my one chance for a break before then."

An average of 1.6 million people watched Canada win bronze, with a peak of 3.1 million when Diana Matheson scored the winner in a 1-0 victory over France. An average of 3.8 million watched the heartbreaking loss to the United States.

A spirited social media campaign launched promoting Sinclair as candidate for flag-bearer following the semifinal.

"It's still a little bitter, but you realize it's bigger than that," Sinclair said. "Having moms come up to me and say 'my daughter asked to sign up for soccer because she watched you guys', that's what this is all about."