Friday 06 August 2021, 22:45

Sinclair: I never thought this would happen for me

  • Christine Sinclair won Olympic gold with Canada in Yokohama

  • Decades-long dream was realised in unlikely style

  • Sinclair spoke about her changing role and the possibility of retirement

It has been a long time coming: 21 years, four months and 26 days to be exact.

But for Christine Sinclair, every one of those 7,818 days since her March 2000 debut - all that time waiting for a gold medal on the global stage - has been worth it.

“It even looks prettier [than bronze],” said the 38-year-old, laughing as she looked lovingly down on her freshly acquired bauble. “And honestly, I just can’t believe it’s happened. I’m completely overwhelmed.

“When I started playing with the national team, we were losing to the US 9-0. That was the norm. So to be a part of a group standing on top of the podium… I really never thought it would happen for me.”

Sinclair was far from alone in harbouring such doubts. And what makes this elusive gold even more remarkable is the manner in which it has finally been attained.

It was always assumed, after all, that if Canada were to spring a shock at a tournament such as this, it would be with international football’s all-time record scorer carrying the team on her shoulders. Yet there were no Sinclair miracles in Japan, and no need for them.

The fact she hasn’t scored since Canada’s opening match tells its own story. So too does the fact she was substituted in the final with extra time looming. But while other players of her standing would undoubtedly have sulked or railed against the diminishing of her role, Sinclair has been happy to transition from talisman to humble servant.

“I have felt that [pressure to perform] in the past,” she said. “But not with this group. This group is loaded. Now I know I just need to do my own job and whatever I can to help the team win. I don’t need to play out of my skin for us to win. And it’s a great feeling to be a part of something like that.

“I think my experience still helps. You saw last night how Carli [Lloyd] and Megan [Rapinoe] stepped up for the US when they needed them. But I just want to help the team. If that’s clearing corners, I don’t care. I just want to help. And I know I didn’t do anything special tonight – I just did my job.”

Christine Sinclair #12 of Team Canada embraces teammate Jordyn Huitema #19 as she is substituted off

That job, it should be acknowledged, did include winning the all-important penalty that hauled Canada level and paved the way for their dramatic victory. Typically, though, Sinclair was keen to apportion credit elsewhere, from “clutch” penalty heroine Stephanie Labbe to Bev Priestman, the coach who has overseen this unlikely Olympic success story.

“Bev changed the attitude of this team,” she said. “I missed the first camp with her and when I came back in for the second one, I could already see that she had instilled a sense of belief, of confidence, of bravery, that we hadn’t seen before.

“We now play to our strengths. We can defend – we’re world-class at defending – and we have 100-metre sprinters up top. And Bev has definitely brought that to our team.”

Sinclair couldn’t, however, bid a fond farewell to Yokohama without the spotlight being turned back on her. The question, inevitably: ‘What now?’

When a 38-year-old world record holder realises the dream she has been chasing for over two decades, it’s only natural to wonder about the temptation to retire on the highest of highs.

“Don’t ask me that! At the very least let me have the victory tour to enjoy first,” came her smiling response.

“I vowed to myself before this tournament that, whatever happened here, I wouldn’t make a decision out of joy or out of pain. And I’m going to stay true to that. So, yeah, who knows? There’s a World Cup out there, so we’ll see…”

The thought of Sinclair strutting her stuff in Australia and New Zealand two years from now will, of course, delight the many admirers of a great player and wonderful ambassador for her sport. But whether she plays on or hangs up her boots, Canada’s greatest ever footballer can now do so as the most deserving of gold medalists.

Gold medalist Christine Sinclair #12 and teammates of Team Canada celebrate with their gold medals