Top contenders for the Lou Marsh award. (The Canadian Press)To even have your name included in the discussion for the Lou Marsh Award is an honour. It means an athlete has accomplished a notable achievement in Canadian sport for that year.
It's the variety of achievements spread over a vast number of sports which makes selecting a Lou Marsh winner so challenging, and sometimes leads to controversy.
This year's Lou Marsh Award will be announced Monday. Named after the former Toronto Star sports editor, the 75-centimetre-high, black marble trophy is awarded to Canada's top athlete, professional or amateur.
The possible recipients for 2012 include Rosie MacLennan, who won the Olympic gold medal in trampoline; Joey Votto, an all-star first baseman with the Cincinnati Reds; Summer Mortimer, a swimmer who won two gold, a silver and bronze at the London Paralympics; tennis player Milos Raonic, who won two titles this year and climbed to a career-high No. 13 ranking; George St. Pierre, the UFC welterweight champion who is the sport's top-draw on pay-per-view and hasn't lost a fight in five years; Steve Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who led the NHL last season with 60 goals; cyclist Ryder Hesjedal, winner of the 2012 Giro d'Italia; and Christine Sinclair, who scored six goals in the Olympic soccer tournament -- three in a heart-breaking loss to the U.S. -- and was Canada's flag-bearer at the London closing ceremonies.
That's an impressive list with other candidates not even included. But there in lies the dilemma. So many to choose from but just one award.
The problem would be cut in half if there was a male and female award.
There's also the issue of professional versus amateur. How do you judge the body of work of someone like Emilie Heymans, who at the London Games became the first woman diver to win medals at four straight Olympics, against Steve Nash, who led the NBA with 664 assists. Most people notice Heymans once every our years while Nash plays a 82-game schedule.
Is it fair to consider the world record set by Paralympic swimmer Benoit Huot in the same light as skier Jan Hudec winning a World Cup downhill race last year in Chamonix, France?
Let's face it, some sports resonate more with Canadians. That's probably why eight hockey players have won the award in the 71 times its been presented since 1936. No surprise, Wayne Gretzky won it four times, more than any other athlete.
Athletes like speedskater Cindy Klassen, kayaker Adam van Koeverden, sprinter Donovan Bailey and wrestler Daniel Igali were all acknowledge during Olympic years when they won gold medals. Speed-skater Christine Nesbitt set a world record and won two world championships in 2012.
The rest of the country may look at the award with some suspicion because the panel that decides consists of 11 registered voters including representatives from The Star, The Canadian Press, FAN590, the Globe and Mail, CBC, Rogers Sportsnet, CTV/TSN, La Presse and the National Post. If someone from the West doesn't win it's surely because of an Eastern bias. If a French Canadian is overlooked it's another insult from the English.
Really there is no wrong choice for this year's award but some might be better than others.
So who should win this year?
No cyclist has ever been awarded the Lou Marsh. Hesjedal did something no Canadian had ever done before by winning a Grand Tour, competing in an event that commands world attention.
Give it to Hesjedal. The debate over whether it was the right decision can last until next year.