Tue Oct 04 04:21pm EDT
It may not have been the greatest year for Christine Sinclair, but it's certainly been an interesting one. She turned in a tremendous individual performance in the Women's World Cup, breaking the shutout streak of the defending world champion Germans, but broke her nose in the process and was there for Canada's ultimate failure and the dismissal of coach Carolina Morace. Sinclair's in the news again, but for more positive reasons this time; it was announced Tuesday that she'll be Canada's flag-bearer at the 2011 Pan-Am Games, which take place in Guadalajara, Mexico from Oct. 14-30.
This is a tremendous honour for Sinclair (seen above wearing a mask at the Women's World Cup after breaking her nose), and a nice recognition of her talents, her service to Canada and the importance of her sport. Sinclair, 28, is one of the very best female soccer players in the world, and has been nominated for FIFA's women's World Player of the Year award five separate times, including in 2010. She's been the crucial backbone of the Canadian women's team since making her debut with the senior side at age 18 in 2000, and has piled up 117 goals in 161 appearances for the national team, more than any other Canadian woman or man has ever scored for the national side. She's found success at every other level, too, leading the University of Portland Pilots to NCAA national championships in 2002 and 2005, earning the Honda-Broderick Cup as the NCAA female athlete of the year that latter season and winning the WPS title with the Western New York Flash this year, being named MVP of the final in the process. Still, it's her long-standing stardom with the national team that's made her the most well-known in Canada, and her history of representing her country through good times and bad makes her a terrific choice as flag-bearer.
This is also an interesting moment for the Canadian women's soccer program, as they'll be one of the crucial stories of these Pan-Am Games. The Games are primarily interesting as a tune-up for next year's 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and the women's soccer team could use a quick tune-up more than just about any other team. After Morace's dismissal, the Canadian Soccer Association moved quickly to bring in Englishman John Herdman as the new coach. He has a promising resume from his time with New Zealand, but he'll have to work very fast to try and get the team on course for the Olympics.
Fortunately, they'll have home-field advantage, as the CONCACAF (North American) women's qualifying tournament will be held in Vancouver in January, but it's still going to be a tough task; only two of the six teams present will qualify for the Olympics, and the Women's World Cup runner-up Americans will almost undoubtedly sew up one of those spots. For a new coach trying to get used to a new group of players, that's a very difficult hill to climb, and one that will have to be climbed quickly; the Pan-Am Games will be one of the very few chances Herdman will have to get his squad ready for that critical qualification tournament, so the spotlight will very much be on their team beyond just Sinclair's flag-bearing.
The Pan-Am Games will run from Oct. 14-30, and there should be plenty of interesting stories coming out of them. 493 male and female athletes from every province and territory will be representing Canada, and many of them will have to opportunity to qualify for the 2012 Olympics through these Games if they perform well enough. Athletes in the sports of diving, equestrian dressage, tennis, synchronized swimming, water polo, triathlon, and canoe/kayak sprint, handball, field hockey, modern pentathlon, table tennis all will have qualification chances at the Pan-Ams. The athletes involved range in age from 15 (Anqi Luo, table tennis) to 64 (Ian Millar, equestrian), so there are plenty of different backgrounds on display too.
Still, much of the spotlight will be on flag-bearer Sinclair and her soccer team, and that's as it should be. Despite structural challenges, they still have a lot of talented players, and if Herdman can get them to gel quickly, they could be a threat to not only make the Olympics but do well there. The Pan-Am Games will be the first step in that process, and their performance there will be well worth following.