It’s an incredible feat; as of this week, the world’s greatest goalscorer – male or female – has come from Canada. Making her debut in 2000, the 36-year-old has run rampant over an entire sport for nearly two decades.
Sinclair made her imprint on Canadian sport years ago, culminating in an epic 2012 Olympics semi-final hat trick against the United States and an opening goal at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. And, don’t look now, Sinclair has at least one more major tournament left: the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
But is this accomplishment worth more than a simple imprint as a star in some faraway competition? Is this the greatest Canadian sporting achievement of our time?
Which Canadians come close? Has any Canadian athlete done something as impactful as scoring 185 goals for their country? Let’s review.
Hayley Wickenheiser (Hockey)
One of two hockey players on this list, Hayley Wickenheiser is the most decorated international player ever thanks to an astonishing four-straight Olympic gold medals. Just like Sinclair, the Saskatchewan native had a long run at the top as a leader after earning a debut as a teenager.
Wickenheiser certainly has the longevity to challenge Christine Sinclair in a “greatest Canadian career” argument. But did she dominate tournaments and occasions like Sinclair has? You could argue she was one of several key pieces on those Olympic teams, joining Marie-Philip Poulin, Caroline Ouellette, and Cassie Campbell as potent forwards on a team that could score buckets of goals.
Does Sinclair’s role on a less-dominant side make her accomplishments more meaningful?
Georges St. Pierre (Mixed Martial Arts)
The Montreal-born mixed martial artist left the sport at the top in 2013. St. Pierre had gone a decade as the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) most feared fighter; he was a three-time UFC Welterweight Champion, and he had the second-longest continuous title defense (nine title fight wins over 2,237 days), and a combined 26-2 record – considered the greatest run of any MMA fighter ever. St. Pierre hit the top of MMA just as the sport exploded in popularity, adding to his accomplishments even further.
Perhaps it’s his 15-year career at the top of the sport that challenges Sinclair’s feat the most. How many fighters can keep up with the rigors of a sport like MMA, and stay on top, like he did?
Clara Hughes (Speed Skating & Cycling)
The only athlete to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, Clara Hughes is one of Canada’s most well-rounded athletes. A pair of road cycling bronze medals in Atlanta 1996 as a 24-year-old preceded an even more impressive run of speed skating results: an Olympic gold and two bronze medals in the 5000-metre and seven World Championship podiums spanning from Salt Lake City 2002 to Vancouver 2010.
A flag bearer for hosts Canada at those aforementioned Vancouver games, Hughes retired soon after with a Canadian-record six Olympic medals spanning 14 years – a longevity that challenges Sinclair’s ability to perform at the top… in multiple sports.
Donovan Bailey (Sprinter)
One-time world’s fastest man (or joint-fastest, if you’re into arguments) Donovan Bailey was at the top of Canada’s Olympic program in the 1990s. A world record-setting gold medal in the 100 metres and another gold in the 4 × 100 metres relay at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta made the Oakville native a worldwide superstar overnight, just as it had for Usain Bolt in the last decade.
Setting a world record in such a prestigious event as the 100 metres was an incredible feat – made even more impressive on the Olympic stage – but it all but ends there for Bailey. A tragic ruptured Achilles sidelined Bailey for good in 1998, leaving his 9.84-second world record his only major Olympic feat and ending a three-year run at the top of the athletics universe.
Perhaps another Olympic gold medal – something that has avoided Sinclair so far – would settle this debate.
In a country such as Canada, perhaps it’s worth arguing against the Great One in this scenario… just to even the score. A total of 2,857 points is impressive – even in an era where goalies would seemingly avoid the puck when possible. But he arrived on the hockey scene at just the right time. He has said as much.
Yes, Sinclair has played during a time of rapid growth in the women’s game, meaning there were some easy opponents along the way to 185. But these opponents have also become harder and harder to break down. Look at her most fruitful calendar year: 2012. Sinclair scored 23 goals in 22 matches in the 2012 Summer Olympics and qualifying against the likes of the United States (3), Brazil (2), New Zealand, China, Italy, Scotland, and Mexico – these were some of the world’s best teams.
Truth is, Gretzky’s career is the greatest on this list. While Sinclair’s unbelievable goalscoring record could, maybe, might be broken, his 894 goals, 1,963 assists, and 2,857 points will not be – statistical achievements that seem impossible in the modern game of hockey.
But athletes face their own unique set of circumstances. Gretzky scored goals alongside fellow stars in a league that produced thousands of goals a season. Sinclair stood on her own up top, taking a sometimes-underwhelming Canadian side up the hill of world football.
An invaluable piece and a North Star for the Canadian women’s side to follow since the millennium.