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Bronze brilliance earns female athlete of year

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TORONTO -- Little about Christine Sinclair's brilliant performance at the London Olympics came as a surprise to her teammates.

But it allowed the rest of the world to finally see the captain they all know so well.

The 29-year-old star of Canada's women's soccer team lifted her squad to a bronze medal at last summer's Olympics, Canada's first medal in a traditional team sport since 1936. The result firmly entrenched her as a Canadian sports hero and brought global acclaim to a player who has been among the best women on the planet for years.

It also capped a tremendous season that earned the Burnaby, B.C., native the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as The Canadian Press female athlete of 2012.

"She's always been one of the best in the world, she's always been fantastic, and what's great about this year is that the world got to see her at the highest stage -- Olympics," said Canada's veteran goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc. "The world was watching, and she showed what we've all known for so long.

"People are starting to see all sides of her -- her funny side and her humble side. She's a phenomenal athlete. And she believes so much. Playing for Canada is such an honour, and she shows that in the way she plays. She doesn't go out there and talk the talk. . . She shows it in the most beautiful way."

Sinclair earned 269 points, including the majority of first-place votes (84), to run away with the award, which is determined through balloting among sports editors and broadcasters across the country.

Olympic trampoline champion Rosie MacLennan was second with 118 points ahead of speedskater Christine Nesbitt (76), tennis player Eugenie Bouchard (30) and hockey player Caroline Ouellette (27).

"It's a huge honour," Sinclair said, but then deflected praise to her teammates as deftly as she delivers a pass.

"I'm proud of our team. We had a goal this year heading into the Olympics and that was to bring home a medal, and we accomplished that and just to sort of see the way Canada fell in love with our team, it's been very remarkable."

Sinclair, who has won nearly every athlete of year award in Canada this month, led her team to bronze in London in spectacular fashion, scoring an Olympic-record six goals to win the Golden Boot. Sinclair recorded a hat trick in a controversial 4-3 extra-time semifinal loss to the U.S., and then lashed out at the officiating, which seemed to endear her even more to frustrated fans watching back home.

"Christine Sinclair is Canada's best soccer player," said Phil Andrews of the Guelph Mercury. "What a passionate leader. What a clutch performer. What an inspiration to the thousands of youths playing soccer in Canada and dreaming of being a star at an international level. She was the biggest story at the Olympics for Canada this year."

Cyclist Ryder Hesjedal of Victoria won the Lionel Conacher Award as Canada's male athlete of the year Wednesday.

Sinclair scored a Canadian-record 23 goals in 2012, and added six assists, meaning she contributed to 65.9 per cent of her team's scoring in 2012.

The season was a remarkable turnaround for the 5-9 player with the sweet scoring touch. Only a year earlier, Canada was ousted in the preliminary round of the women's World Cup.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2012 C6

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