It must have been one of the rarest times in scholastic history, when a Grade 10 class was stopped in its tracks so a 16 year old could answer her cell phone. After what must have been a few anxious moments, I am sure there was complete jubilation at Monarch Park Collegiate Institute as Penny Oleksiak, and her class, had just found out that she won the Lou Marsh Award for the 2016 Canadian Athlete of the Year. In what was a fantastic year for Canadian sports, there were many deserving candidates. Each of these special athletes had such spectacular years as they reached new Canadian heights in their respective sport. In almost any other year, they would have easily won the award. Brooke Henderson was the first Canadian female to win a PGA Major in the last 48 years and at one point was ranked 2nd in the world. Milos Raonic made it to the Wimbledon Finals and ranked as high as 3rd in the world, something no other Canadian male has done. These are not just great “Canadian” accomplishments but are truly global. A number of people felt that Andre De Grasse or Sidney Crosby (more on them later) deserved the award more than the swimmer. That’s perfectly fine as everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but don’t go disparaging Penny or any other of the nominees. There were some critics, thankfully not many, who chided this year’s selection because they believe that Miss Oleksiak only won because she was a teenager. They thought how could somebody win athlete of the year when her entire body of work happened in only 1 week. Sometimes stupidity really knows no bounds. Unless of course, you are Jamie Oleksiak from the NHL’s Dallas Stars. Then it is ok to jokingly be disrespectful because afterall, that’s what an older brother is for.
Siblings being siblings: Penny Oleksiak on PTS tells us when she won Lou Marsh, her brother Jamie sent a Snapchat: "Congratulations loser."
— Arash Madani (@ArashMadani) December 13, 2016
Yes, part of the charm of Penny’s story is that she is only 16, but it never has been the whole story. Consider her age as the exclamation mark at the end of a sentence. An exclamation that catches your attention and provides great emphasis as it adds to the strength of the statement itself, not overshadow it. For example… Penny Oleksiak won the Lou Marsh award because she did what no other Canadian has ever done, male or female, by winning 4 medals (including one gold) in a Summer Olympics – AND – she did it while she was only 16. There is no doubt that she is a deserving winner and has continued to perform well on the international stage as she is still setting Canadian records at the FINA World short-course swimming championships this month.
Fellow Olympian Andre De Grasse also made his presence felt at Rio and the expectation is for him to achieve even greater heights in Tokyo 2020. De Grasse earned three medals in track and to understand that accomplishment you have to understand that there have been a number of Olympic games where Canada as a whole didn’t get three medals in track. To get a bronze in the premiere event of the games, the 100m sprint, means that your name is on every single newspaper in the world. When the king of the track, Usain Bolt, anoints you as the next heir apparent, everyone takes note. Even though the race is over in less than 10 seconds, it is the most important event at any Olympics. Therefore if the voters had chosen De Grasse as the Canadian athlete of the year, I wouldn’t have been upset as he too is deserving. I do believe however, if he was a just a smidgen better and had beat Bolt in any one of those races, the voting would have gone differently.
Which leads us to Sidney Crosby who has already been Canada’s best athlete twice before. This time though he has had his best year yet and therefore he couldn’t possibly have done anything better. He finished third in scoring for the 2015/2016 NHL season despite being in a slump until Christmas time. He then tore up the league in the second half and lead the Pittsburgh Penguins as they won the Stanley Cup. He even earned himself the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player. Fast-forward a few months to the World Cup of Hockey where only the best of the best are playing. Even in that environment he was easily noted as the most dominant player on the most dominant team. Seriously, what else could he have possibly done? With all those accomplishments, he still manages to fall behind Penny Oleksiak this year and rightfully so. Go figure.
So grab a few friends and few adult beverages and debate over who you feel deserves to be named as Canadian Athlete of the Year. There really isn’t a wrong choice among them so it would be also wise to take the time to just remember all these wonderful sporting memories that Canadians have provided us this past year too.
» Sports » Canada’s Best 2016