Christine Sinclair has always had a bit of an uneasy relationship with the media. Not hostile, far from standoffish, still always willing to lend a quote, just simply uneasy. As though she wasn't certain why anybody would be all that interested in the opinion of a kid from Burnaby, B.C.
She's no longer a kid, however. She is more than a decade beyond the teen sensation that was breaking NCAA Division I scoring records and helping the University of Portland win national championships. She is five years beyond her 100th cap for the Canadian women's national team, and just this week, scored her 137th international goal.
No, it has been a while since Christine Sinclair was anything besides a veteran presence on the Canadian squad. Just don't suggest that to her.
Before the last World Cup I made the mistake of asking her about how many years she thought she had left in her international career, wondering if this was perhaps her last true run at a World Cup. She scoffed at this reporter and pointed out that at 28-years-old (now 29) she wasn't even thinking about it.
"I have had no major injuries. I feel great. I love playing. I love my team. I don't envision quitting anytime soon," Sinclair said. "So, to answer your question, no I don't think this will be my last World Cup."
Even a broken nose, which took the full brunt of a German defender's elbow in the first game of that tournament, wouldn't keep her off the pitch. And throughout the rest of the World Cup she took on a sort of folklore persona, complete with a superhero protective facemask. Unfortunately for Canada there would be no superhero heroics to match, as the squad failed to advance from its group.
A year later and a year older, Sinclair is once again the focus as her squad - and make no mistake, it is her squad - heads into the London Olympics looking to erase a major stain on her career of successes.
"We have a very difficult group. We have Japan, the defending World Cup champions. South Africa, who we don't know a lot about and are sure to bring a good fight. And Sweden, who we have found off and on success against over the years," Sinclair said. "If we're going to advance we have to play a complete game, each game. If we take stretches of games off we're going to be in tough."Wealth of returning players
Sinclair points to a wealth of returning players from the last Olympics (12 to be exact) and a new training system under head coach John Herdman for reasons to think more positively about this campaign.
"[In 2008] it was the first time our soccer team had qualified, and none of us had been there before and we were all inexperienced," Sinclair said. "And by the time we got to the World Cup in 2011, players were tired of being away from their families and just ready to go home . . . that is not what your mindset should be at a World Cup or an Olympics."
Sinclair won't speculate about whether she sees the London Olympics as her last chance to leave a mark on Canadian soccer - putting an exclamation point on a storied career with an Olympic medal. Ahead of Olympic qualifying in Vancouver, though, she told this reporter that she sees her legacy directly tied to that kind of success.
The time between Olympics, four years, can be a long time in soccer. It's not an eternity but in a rapidly growing women's game, the young legs are starting to win out. Sinclair is still very much a force to be reckoned with. A mix of full-grown physicality, game in and game out consistency, and a still sharp-as-ever technique easily put her in the top five players in the world - you could probably even make the case for top three.
Will she still be in that select group at the next World Cup or Olympics? You wouldn't want to bet against her - you certainly don't want to be the reporter to ask her that.
But it has become increasingly clear that there is a window of opportunity with Sinclair and this squad to find success. It opened with her emergence into international soccer at the turn of the century. And it is now starting to close as she plateaus along her career peak.
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