This is not to say that we didn’t consider other outstanding Canadians as potential victors - we did.
For instance, Eric Lamaze provoked a lot of discussion. After all, he won two medals at the Olympics with his wonderful horse Hickstead including the individual championship. No other Canadian has done that and Lamaze also captured more than a million dollars in a remarkable professional season.
Eric Lamaze, you see, is much more than a great rider, he also doubles as the magnificent animal’s trainer. He would have been a worthy choice.
So too would have been Justin Morneau, the slugger of the Minnesota Twins of Major League Baseball. He is a team leader and prolific producer of runs at his sport’s highest level. It’s not easy to be one of the top dogs of America’s pastime when you’re a Canuck.
And how about Simon Whitfield? The first gold medallist of men’s triathlon at the Sydney Olympics was back at it in Beijing as a 30-something, first-time father. Whitfield provided Canadians with a thrilling dash to a silver medal this summer. It was very nearly gold and surely as electrifying. Whitfield also won a World Cup race in Japan and stood very close to the top of international rankings in a very demanding multi-disciplined endeavour.
There were other considerations, Chantal, more than a dozen in all. To a person they were very impressive candidates. As my friend and fellow selection committee member Rod Black of CTV/ TSN noted, “…there is a compelling case to be made for each of these people.”
And so there was a choice. But in the end the great rower and chairperson of our selection group, Silken Laumann, reminded us that it all boiled down to one thing. “It’s about awarding this to the person most deserving and that’s all that matters.”
In that regard Chantal, you won the day. Your five gold medals caused our national anthem to be played five times in front of 90,000 spectators at the Bird’s Nest which was a spectacular feat in itself. Plus, you set world records along the way and made your name known to all of us in Canada. You did it with a smile and with grace and made us all forget about any disability you were faced with. Instead you reminded us how we can all be empowered by determination and hard work.
This is not a career award Chantal, although in your case it could easily be. Your five Paralympic appearances and 21 medals in all, including 14 gold, are a testament to your status as a pioneer to say nothing of your staying power. You are so well known in our country and you have put your sport on the map.
But this is about what you have done this year as a 37-year-old wheelchair athlete. Chantal you have done it all and it’s about time we got around to telling you how great you really are.
Michel Marois of La Presse also sits on our committee and he hit the nail on the head. The last time you won five gold medals Chantal, back in 2004 in Athens, the committee had to fight just to get you on the ballot for the Lou Marsh Award because some said your sport didn’t have enough competitive depth. Not this time.
“Canada has grown in its understanding,” Michel said. “We all have grown.”
Indeed we have. And so I just wanted to say, Chantal that we are unanimous in offering you hearty congratulations for being named Canada’s athlete of the year and the winner of the Lou Marsh Award.
This year there was no other choice.
It just had to be you.
With great respect and admiration,
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