Most Lou Marsh Award winners don't find out about it in high school law class.

Then again, few 16-year-olds have had the success that Penny Oleksiak did in 2016.

The Olympic sensation beat out such luminaries as Pittsburgh Penguins captain and two-time winner Sidney Crosby and breakout sprint star Andre De Grasse for the award on Tuesday. The Toronto native won four medals, including a gold, at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August and followed that performance by winning four medals at the world short-course swim championships in Windsor, Ont., last week.

"The first thing I told my teacher when I walked into class was that I would be on my phone ... and that I was just watching out for something on Twitter," Oleksiak said during a conference call Tuesday. "So she let me on my phone during that class. She called me out a few times to search something on Google.

"It was pretty exciting when I found out."

Oleksiak, who shattered several Canadian records this year, is the eighth swimmer to win the award and the first since 1992 when Mark Tewksbury won on the strength of his gold-medal performance at the Barcelona Olympics. She emphasized the importance of her family, friends and teammates at the Olympics and her home club in Scarborough, Ont., as critical to her success.

"We trained and won as one team," Oleksiak said. "Most people think that swimming is an individual sport, but five of my world and Olympic medals this year were on relay teams."

"I'm just proud of how hard I worked last year [and] all the people that helped push me I'm really, really grateful for them."

Oleksiak's win comes on the 50th anniversary of the success of another teenage swimmer. In 1966, a 15-year-old Elaine Tanner won the award after claiming four golds and three silvers at the Commonwealth Games.

The Lou Marsh Award is handed out annually to Canada's best athlete as selected by a panel of journalists from across the country. The award is named for Lou Marsh, a former sports editor of the Toronto Star.

Stiff competition for award

Oleksiak was up against a deep pool of successful Canadian athletes in 2016.

"I was super excited to be on a list with such great athletes because I was with Andre De Grasse and so many other athletes that I've looked up to for so long and I was just excited to be on the list, let alone win," she said.

Crosby made a strong case for his third award, winning his second Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL's playoff MVP in June. The 29-year-old from Cole Harbour, N.S., later captained Canada to a win at the World Cup of Hockey, earning tournament MVP honours in the process.

De Grasse emerged as the star of the second half of the Rio Games, winning a silver medal in the 200 metres and bronze in both the 100 and 4x100. The 22-year-old from Markham, Ont. also garnered attention for his cordial rivalry with Olympic great Usain Bolt, who won gold in all three events.

Other finalists for the award included:

  • Golfer Brooke Henderson, who won her first major this year at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship and reached as high as No. 2 in the world rankings.
  • Paralympic swimmer Aurélie Rivard, who won four medals — three gold and one silver — at the Games in Rio and was named flag-bearer at the closing ceremony.
  • Tennis player Milos Raonic, who reached his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon and finished the year at No. 3 in the world rankings, the highest for any Canadian.
  • High jumper Derek Drouin, who won gold in Rio with a perfect run of six successful attempts (his only miss came when he tried to set a new Olympic record after securing the gold).

With files from The Canadian Press