It's hard to believe that 2011 is almost done.
Seasons come and seasons go but sport never sleeps and suddenly thoughts are turning to the inevitable measurement of which Canadian athlete has shone above the rest in this calendar year.
In many ways it's like comparing apples to oranges, or for a classic car buff, a Camaro to a Mustang. It's hard to make choices in this arena because there is so much greatness out there and in Canada there exists a richness of athletic achievement.
There are team athletes and individuals as well as professionals and so-called amateurs. Winter and summer sports are well represented on the list of qualified athletes, as are men and women.
When one stops to admire all the victories by Canadians in the last 12 months there are, at times, a feeling of inescapable pride. For a relatively small country in terms of population and therefore pool of talent available, there are an incredible number of stars.
One caution, the year isn't quite yet done and so some of the sports men and women who are candidates in this realm are bound to improve their chances before the calendar turns to 2012.
Therefore, here is a starting point for everyone's consideration: a deserving dozen candidates to think about. This is not an exclusive list and there are certainly others beyond these 12, I list below. Still, it's a place to begin.
The world's No. 1 ranked shot put athlete. A silver medallist at the world championships, Armstrong also won the Pan American Games gold medal with a Games record effort, plus he won the Diamond League series. A native of Kamloops, B.C., Armstrong established himself as the Olympic favourite in London.
The native of Simcoe, Ont., had a breakout year as a reliever for the Milwaukee Brewers. His 46 saves led the National League and established a club record. He also played a big part in the underdog Brewers making it to the NLCS where they eventually succumbed to the Cardinals. Axford also captured the Robert Goulet Award annually given out by the American Mustache Institute for his prodigious "duster."
Chan is the best men's talent in figure skating at the present time and some might say he's got the potential to be the best in history. Not yet 21, Chan won the world championship in Moscow and set three world records for scores in the short, free and total skating programs. He also captured Skate Canada International and has the inside track on another Grand Prix Final championship in Quebec City before the year is out. Chan has mastered the "quad" and is the face of figure skating in Canada.
Canada's Big Fish is one of the best distance swimmers in the world. Along with sprinter Brent Hayden he has ignited a renaissance in the pool for Canada. This year the world championships in Shanghai presented one of the deepest fields in history. Cochrane made three finals in three hotly contested events: 400, 800 and 1,500-metre freestyle. He set a new Canadian record in the first while finishing fifth, and won silver medals in the other two events. One of the new Speedo poster boys along with Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte of the United States, Cochrane is an aquatic superstar.
Dwayne De Rosario
From Scarborough, Ont., De Rosario had what is arguably his finest season in Major League Soccer. Sixteen goals and 12 assists with three different clubs, it culminated with his naming as the MLS MVP for the first time. In addition, De Rosario has 19 international goals for Canada, which ties him all-time with Dale Mitchell. He is leading the Canadians into the next round of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. De Rosario might be the best soccer player in the country's history.
From Mt. Tremblant, Quebec, Guay stakes a claim to being the premier alpine racer in Canada's history. In 2011, he won the world downhill championship on a tough course in Germany. He also had a couple of World Cup podium finishes and has moved past Ken Read to sit behind Steve Podborski on the all-time list. Guay is a factor every time he races in a very deep field of competitors.
Hickstead and Eric Lamaze
It was a tragic end to a brilliant career and an equally brilliant season. This one is not about the sympathy vote. Under Lamaze's guidance Hickstead remained the No. 1 ranked show jumping horse in the world in 2011. He had prestigious Grand Prix wins in Rome and La Baule, France. Hickstead also won the richest event in the sport, the CN International at Spruce Meadows, for the second time. Lamaze and Hickstead were also close silver medallists at the FEI Grand Prix Final in Leipzig, Germany. Lamaze and Hickstead were inseparable and as a tandem they were the very best in the world this season and maybe for all-time.
Kershaw, a native of Sudbury, Ont., is an amazing athlete in a sport that doesn't get a ton of play in Canada. That said, cross-country skiing is the most-contested winter sport of all in Europe. It's tough to win, which is what Kershaw did with some amazing regularity in 2011. First, there was the Tour de Ski through Germany and Italy. Kershaw won medals in four of the 10 stages and took one gold. Then he combined with Alex Harvey in the team sprint to win Canada's first-ever gold medal at the world championships before 100,000 fans in Oslo, Norway. Simply put, Devon Kershaw is one of the best athletes in one of the most competitive sports on the face of the earth.
There is no better speedskater anywhere. Nesbitt, who was born in Australia but grew up in London, Ont., had a whale of a year. She won three world championship gold medals in the 1,000-metre, the team pursuit as well as the sprint title. Nesbitt also claimed silver in the world all-around championship, which is unheard of for a sprint speed skater. On the World Cup circuit she was virtually unbeatable in her best discipline, the 1,000m.
Perry is the youthful star of the NHL Anaheim Ducks. He had a great past season and scored 50 goals to win the Rocket Richard trophy as the league's top goal scorer. In addition, he is by far and away the most valuable player on his team and garnered the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. He scored eight points in six games as the Ducks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Perry is off to a slower start this season, but there's an argument to be made that he and Steve Stamkos of Tampa Bay are the best Canadians playing the national passion right now.
Sinclair is the top women's soccer player in the country. She is also one of the Top 5 premiere players in the world and has been for a number of years. But this is about this season and Christine Sinclair has been brilliant again. She scored the only goal for Canada at the FIFA World Cup in Germany and played with a broken nose. She then led Canada to a gold medal at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico and was the country's flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony. Sinclair was also the MVP of the final match as her Western New York Flash won the Women's Professional Soccer League Championship. This season she scored 10 goals in league play for her pro club and remained at the top of her game.
Last year's Lou Marsh winner as Canada's Athlete of the Year has come back with another stellar campaign. He scored his first gold glove at first base for the Cincinnati Reds and also had great numbers on offence. Votto batted for a .309 average to become the heart of the Reds attack while hitting 29 homers and driving in 103 runs. He scored 101 runs and stole eight bases to boot. Without Joey Votto the Reds wouldn't have a hope. He's proven he's one of MLB's most dangerous players.
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