Every year, there comes a point when a Canadian does something so spectacular in their chosen sport that it’s accompanied by a predictable comment.
“Well, there’s this year’s Lou Marsh winner.”
We all think we know the kind of standard that has been set to win the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete of the year. When we see it, we know it.
For many, that moment this year came on Sept. 7 in New York when Bianca Andreescu took out American superstar Serena Williams to win the U.S. Open, the first Canadian to ever win a Grand Slam singles tennis title.
Game, set and match for the Lou Marsh, right?
Well, maybe. Very possibly. We’ll know Monday when a blue-ribbon panel of Canadian media members gathers in Toronto to place their votes for this prestigious award, first handed out in 1936. The winner will be announced at 1:30 p.m. that day.
But the sports season didn’t end on Sept. 7. A few things have happened since then that should make Monday’s discussion more complicated that might have been imagined.
- Soroka, a 22-year-old from Calgary, finished off an extraordinary rookie season with the Atlanta Braves with a sizzling 13-4 record and 2.68 ERA. He was a mid-season all-star, second in balloting for National League rookie of the year and sixth in Cy Young voting. In the post-season, he was brilliant in his one start, going seven innings and giving up only two hits. This week, he won the Tip O’Neill Award as Canada’s top baseball player.
- Hubbard’s another Alberta kid who turned heads, and his regular season only ended last weekend. He’s from Edmonton and is a sophomore running back for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Only 20, Hubbard became the first Canadian to lead the entire NCAA in rushing with 1,936 yards and could yet figure into voting for the Heisman Trophy. We’ve exported lots of football players south to play and star, but not many running backs.
- You undoubtedly remember Boutin, the short-track speedskating star who won three individual medals and was Canada’s flag-bearer at the closing ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics. Well, she hasn’t gone away. This season, she’s already won four gold medals in two World Cup events and set a world record in the 500 metres by becoming the first woman of any nationality to skate that distance in under 42 seconds.
- While Soroka was finishing up his season for Atlanta, Hubbard was churning up hunks of turf in Stillwater and Boutin was flying on the ice, Lakatos was preparing for the world para athletics championships in Dubai. As usual, the 39-year-old wheelchair racer didn’t disappoint, winning gold medals in the 100- and 800-metre events, and silver in the 400. He now has 13 career gold medals at the worlds to go with seven medals over four Paralympics. He also owns five world records. Next year in Tokyo, if you can believe it, he’s planning to add the marathon to his roster of events.
So those are four Canadian athletes who achieved significant success in the second half of 2019. There were also quite a few who did some special things in the first half.
You could start with goaltender Jordan Binnington, who arrived seemingly out of nowhere in the crease of the St. Louis Blues in early January, when the Blues were dead last in the entire NHL. All he did was win 24 of 30 regular-season starts before turning away the Jets, Stars, Sharks and Bruins to register 16 more victories as St. Louis won the first Stanley Cup in team history.
Don’t forget Brooke Henderson. On June 16, Henderson won her second LPGA title of the season in Michigan, the ninth of her career. That made her the winningest Canadian golfer ever with more wins than Sandra Post, Mike Weir and George Knudson. She almost won her second straight CP Women’s Canadian Open as well, before falling to world No. 1 Jin Young Ko.
There were other outstanding Canadian performances in 2019.
- James Paxton won 15 games for the Yankees.
- Mo Ahmed won a bronze medal in the 5,000-metre race at the worlds, the first Canadian to ever earn a medal at that distance.
- Ryan O’Reilly won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
- Denis Shapovalov became the highest ranked Canadian male tennis player in the world and led Canada to the Davis Cup final last month.
- Swimmer Kylie Masse successfully defended her 100-metre backstroke title at the world championships in South Korea.
On and on it goes.
The conversation always seems to come back to Andreescu, whose win at the U.S. Open rivalled the NBA championship of the Toronto Raptors as the biggest moment of the year in Canadian sports. Everybody was watching, or so it seemed. The Raps slayed a giant, and so did Andreescu.
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Still, you can appreciate how difficult it is to measure these athletes against each other. A pro tennis player against a running back at a U.S. college. A world record-setting speedskater against an NHL player. A golfer against a Paralympian. What’s more difficult? What’s a greater achievement?
Once again, it’s a crowded field in 2019, folks. We’re blessed in this country with extraordinary athletes, male and female.
They love to make it tough every year to pick the winner of the Lou Marsh.