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Burnaby's Christine Sinclair returns home, her star shining bright

When Christine Sinclair left for London a few weeks ago she was the face of women’s soccer in Canada.

By the time she returned home on Monday she was the face of all of Canada’s Olympians.

In the past, Sinclair has lifted many a club to lofty heights, starting with the Burnaby Girls Soccer Club. Her play spearheaded a provincial high school title for Burnaby South secondary. She led Canada to the final of the world under-19 championship in 2002, and then later that year the University of Portland Pilots to its first NCAA title.

But at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, Sinclair, wearing her trademark No. 12—which, considering the year was quite appropriate—gripped the nation with an exhilarating exhibition of skill, grit and leadership. The signature game of her career just may have been the 4-3 overtime loss to the United States in the semifinals.

Her compelling play in that game in which she gave Canada the lead three times over the highly favoured Americans took her to an exalted status in this country.

By saying her team got robbed, her emotional attack on the officiating was as incisive a thrust as the ones she delivered with her right foot and head past United States’ renowned goalkeeper, and dancer, Hope Solo.

It was an opinion and attitude that galvanized a country.

Then, despite being exhausted from the toll taken by the intensely physical and emotional encounter with their American nemesis, Sinclair and the Canadian women still found it within themselves to come up with a late goal to beat France 1-0 for the bronze.

Ontario’s Rosie MacLennan won Canada’s only gold on the trampoline, which ordinarily might have made her Canada’s flag bearer at the closing ceremonies. But Sinclair is no ordinary player, and for her to lead her squad to a bronze medal in a sport dominated by the U.S.A., and world champion Japan, who played each other in the final, was extraordinary.

Those who knew Sinclair growing up in Burnaby say she was a shy kid.

But she was also loyal.

She was loyal to her school in taking the time to play for its soccer team despite so many other commitments. She’s been loyal to her remarkable family, a clan that has soccer deep in its DNA including mother, father, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents.

And she’s been loyal to her country.

That loyalty and commitment have helped bring about a metamorphosis in not only Sinclair becoming one of the world’s best players, but in also bringing her out of her shell to be a leader.

It was so thrilling to see her flash a megawatt smile after winning the bronze medal. It got even bigger on Sunday during the closing ceremonies. You could see the pride she had bursting out of the seams of her Canadian denim jacket designed for the team just for that party.

She was still beaming as she stepped off the plane in Vancouver waving a much smaller version of the flag than the one she carried so adroitly and with such joy in London the night before.

At the airport she was surrounded by not only reporters, photographers and videographers, but Canadian fans, particularly little girls and boys. She more than willingly obliged, posing for pictures, especially with the young ones.

“I’m hoping what our soccer team has done for soccer and women’s sports in Canada, that will be better than the medal,” she told the throng at the airport Monday.

That may just be Christine Sinclair’s greatest legacy or triumph: inspiring young Canadians.

And that looks just as good on her as the bronze medal.

• Grant Granger is a sports editor with the NewsLeader.

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