Gold medal greatest gift for greatest female soccer player ever

When big moments happen and history plays out on a vast stage, people like me get paid to wrestle it into a shape that is more easily transmitted across time. A few words on paper, a few paragraphs on a digital page.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/08/2021 (378 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When big moments happen and history plays out on a vast stage, people like me get paid to wrestle it into a shape that is more easily transmitted across time. A few words on paper, a few paragraphs on a digital page.

So when someone stands before the camera and shows you their soul, a person you’ve never met but whose journey you have cheered and grieved as your own, where do you even begin?

Oh, let’s start with this: minutes after the victory, the camera found Christine Sinclair on the pitch, splayed out under the lights of Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium. Her face glowing with emotions that the mind recognizes in a glance, but the language has no words to express.

Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press Canada's Christine Sinclair pleads for a penalty kick during the women's soccer gold medal game against Sweden at the Tokyo Olympics Friday.

Seeing this, I wept. And I knew that, across the country, countless other fans were crying with me.

Oh, Sinclair. She is a force, and she is a glory, and above all she made it impossible not to care. It’s true, for instance, that going into Friday’s Olympic women’s soccer final between Canada and Sweden, the only thing I longed for was that, whatever happened, Sinclair would be happy.

In the end, she was. And it really could be the end, of this part of her story. So let’s honour it.

Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press Christine Sinclair (left) celebrates with Julia Grosso, who scored the winning penalty kick goal against Sweden, during the women's soccer gold medal game Friday.

If this game stands as the last word on Sinclair’s Olympic career, no writer could have plotted it better. When she was subbed off the pitch in the 86th minute, the decision was practical, but also symbolic: for the last 21 years she carried Canadian soccer, and now a generation she inspired would carry her dream to gold.

Some of her teammates were just toddlers when she began her dominance. Julia Grosso, who scored that game-winner on the shootout, wasn’t even born when Sinclair made her senior debut in 2000. Would those rising stars even be on this field, if not for her? If they were, would a whole nation be watching?

Maybe not. The gold belongs to the team, and Sinclair is the first to shy away from this attention. Yet it cannot be denied that the story Canada fell in love with, during these last two decades, was the one she wrote almost on the force of her will alone, a story of determination, perseverance, and hope.

Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press Canada stands for the national anthem as they celebrate their gold medals after defeating Sweden in the penalty shoot-out in the women's soccer final during the summer Tokyo Olympics Friday.

It wasn’t only about her, of course. That’s not her style either. “I just played,” she bashfully told an interviewer once, when asked about her legacy. But in just playing, she lifted her teammates along with her. She brought the eyes of a nation onto the team, and everyone on it. She created space for many to be great.

This, to me, is the most beautiful aspect of her story. Fame has always demanded much of those whom it coalesces around, and that can be especially true for women. But for the most part, fans and media have always given room to Sinclair.

Thank goodness, because she doesn’t have a knack for being anyone else. Unlike some of her flashier peers, Sinclair has never seemed entirely comfortable in front of a microphone or camera. In interviews, she tends to be quiet, maybe even guarded.

Which is what makes it all the more remarkable how, on the pitch, she is so easy to read. In victory or defeat, her face and body seem incapable of hiding emotion. We know relatively little about Sinclair, except how, over the years, her expressions have shown us everything that really matters about a person.

So when she stood on the sidelines after she came off, cheering her teammates as they continued their battle to gold, her eyes blazed with the fury of that iron will, thrown now behind those still on the field. You could see then how she loved them even more fiercely than any play or achievement of her own.

If you want the measure of an athlete, look to the numbers in the history books. If you want the measure of a person, look to the way they treat others. That is where we find Sinclair’s greatest legacy: not in her goals or caps or medals, but in the impression she left on those who played with and against her.

So in the middle of Friday’s final, retired U.S. soccer legend Abby Wambach tweeted that she wanted gold for Sinclair. On the podium, when Sinclair accepted her medal, her teammates let out an ebullient cheer, as eager for that moment as Sinclair was herself. They know what she has done. They know what it means.

And we know what Canada owes Sinclair. Not just for soccer, but for sport; not just for sport, but for women and girls; and not just for girls, but for the young of all genders who have in her a model of what we hope for our children. That they be strong, kind, true to themselves, and be free.

After the game, Sinclair told reporters she would make no snap decision about her future. That’s not how she does things, she said. Besides, she added, there is still a World Cup she hasn’t yet won, so it’s not like she’s accomplished everything to be done.

So who knows what chapters in her story are yet to be written. All I know is this: for more than 20 years, she’s told that story better than anyone else could. There’s nothing she can give to Canada, or this sport, that she hasn’t already given, and the proof of that is in a bright young generation of golden women.

Whatever she decides, all I hope is that, in the end, she is happy.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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