As the end of 2012 approaches, the debate over who deserves to be named Canada’s athlete of the year begins to heat up. The Lou Marsh award will be voted on by a panel of Canadian journalists in December and is widely accepted as the honor given to the year’s top athlete, male or female, from the “Great White North”.
Last year Patrick Chan was the recipient after setting three world scoring records at the World Figure Skating Championships in a year that saw Chan as the overwhelming favorite for the award given his dominance in 2011. Though there were arguments for the likes of Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford and world champion shot-putter Dylan Armstrong, it soon became clear that Chan was the obvious choice.
This year, the field is fairly deep considering that it was an Olympic year and Canadian athletes in many sports established themselves as top performers in their respective disciplines. Depending on whom you ask or whether you trust Sportsnet, TSN or CBC there is a very diverse selection. So who is the top gun this year? Let’s go through some of the contenders:
Steven Stamkos: Though the 2012-13 season may not see a single skate hit the ice, hockey is still a factor in the race as Stamkos finished the 2011-12 season with 60 goals, joining Alex Ovechkin as the only two players to reach the mark since the early 90s when offense was at premium. Stamkos is the top hockey contender given Sidney Crosby’s health issues. The bad taste the NHL is leaving in many fans and journalists’ minds, however, will be costly for Stamkos’ pursuit.
Georges St. Pierre: A staple in the Lou Marsh discussion, especially according to Sportsnet, GSP has never won the award and this year will likely be no exception, having only fought once (spectacular a performance as it was) in 2012 and with the continued lack of mainstream acceptance of MMA, St. Pierre will likely have to wait another year to be considered for the award.
Joey Votto: 2010’s winner had another great season in 2012, though it didn’t gain him an MVP as it did the year he was named top Canadian. Despite Votto being the best Canadian in baseball, he will likely not win his second Lou Marsh.
Patrick Chan: A repeat win is in the cards for Chan as he claimed another world title in 2012. He is still figure skating’s best, but in the last 50 years only one person has repeated as Lou Marsh award winner (Ben Johnson) and the writers may be reluctant to give Chan back to back awards due to the depth of this year’s field.
The above names are all legitimate contenders along with honorable mentions to Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir as well as Kaillie Humphries. But I would like to now present the names who I believe are the true finalists for the award based not only on performance but also what they have done to establish Canada in their sport this year.
Rosie MacLennan: A lot would need to go right for a trampoline athlete to win the Lou Marsh as it isn’t the most popular sport around. That said, MacLennan has certainly upped the sport’s profile in Canada. As Canada’s one and only Olympic Gold Medalist in London, she overcame immense pressure and powerful competition from the dominant Chinese in her sport. Being the lone Canadian to give her country the gift of hearing “Oh Canada” at arguably the world’s biggest sporting event, is on its own worthy of a spot as a finalist for the award.
Milos Raonic: Canada and singles tennis success haven’t been synonymous historically, until Milos burst onto the scene. Though Milos has not dominated his sport like Chan or GSP, he has put Canada the highest it has ever been in ATP Tennis, closing the year at number 13 in the world, a place no other Canadian has reached since the current ranking system began. Breaking new ground in a sport which is recognized not only in North America but around the world is why I believe Milos belongs as a finalist.
Ryder Hesjedal: Had Ryder won the Tour de France, It would be difficult to write this article because the discussion would be a lot shorter. Ryder however did win the Giro d’Italia, which along with the aforementioned Tour de France and also the Tour of Spain comprise cycling’s Grand Tours. A victory in any of these races, cements a cyclist in the conversation with the best in the world. In winning the first of these three grueling races, Hesjedal did what no Canadian had ever done, which is astonishing considering that the Grand Tours date back to the early 1900s. Much like tennis, cycling is also a world recognized sport which lends further support to Ryder getting the Lou Marsh.
Christine Sinclair: I’ve decided to save the best for last and, in my opinion, this year’s Lou Marsh award winner, soccer superstar Christine Sinclair. All of the components are there for her to take the award. She is among if not the best in the world at her sport, which is probably the most recognized in the world. She performed brilliantly under pressure in front of a billion viewers (live and on TV) at the Olympics. The most important factor however is her passion for Canada and how she rallied the whole country together this summer with her energy, leadership and class. She embodies what it is to be Canadian in so many ways and that is why Canada’s flag bearer at the Olympic Closing ceremonies should be crowned Canada’s top athlete in 2012.