The world catches up to Christine Sinclair

In a rivalry that may mirror the visceral Canadian-American rivalry that has defined the world of women’s ice hockey for several generations, the semi-final of the London 2012 Games set the stage for what may be the turning point in Canadian women’s soccer. With the lead having changed hands four times, the US (led by Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan) came back from a 3-2 deficit to prevail by a controversial 4-3 tally.

Contested in Manchester, England, home to some of the greatest soccer matches played in history, the ladies of Canada and the United States ensured that the fans would bear witness to some outstanding women’s soccer. Despite the 4-3 loss to the United States, Sinclair gave one of the greatest performances in Summer Games soccer, in what may have been one of the most exciting and entertaining matches in women’s history. The all-time leader in goals scored for the Canadian national squad, Sinclair scored a hat trick against Hope Solo. It was the first time Solo allowed more than two goals in the London Summer Games. Said hat trick was among six goals scored in overall play at the Games.

Despite the heartbreaking loss: two themes in the game were evidently clear: despite their number one ranking, the United States were humbled, and Christine Sinclair is truly one of the world’s elite soccer players. If the world did not know how great a star she was, the August 6 contest was her coming out party.

The bronze medal game against France was another example of Sinclair displaying the essence of leadership. While she did not score the game winning goal, her presence made all the difference as Diane Matheson scored the goal that helped Canada clinch the historic bronze medal.  It was Canada’s first medal in a team sport at the Summer Games since 1936, when the Canadian men’s basketball squad claimed a silver medal. Sinclair has conducted her game with a quiet dignity that would have made legends like Pele and Maradona proud.

The native of Burnaby, British Columbia, she is a seven-time recipient of the Canada Soccer Player of the Year award, while a five time nominee for FIFA World Player of the Year. Her uncles, Bruce and Brian Gant played in the North American Soccer League. A two-time champion in WPS (once with FC Gold Pride and the second with the Western New York Flash), Brazilian superstar Marta played with her on both championship teams. With the Flash, Sinclair led the WPS in goals scored, and was named MVP of the Final.

A legend at the University of Portland, she scored 23 goals as a freshman, while being named All-American. In 2002, the sophomore led the NCAA with 26 goals, and scored the goal to give Portland the national championship. The Globe and Mail named her one of the 25 most influential people in Canadian sports. The final game of her career with Portland resulted in two goals scored during a 4-0 defeat of UCLA in the national title game. A two-time winner of the Hermann Trophy, the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy in NCAA soccer, she became the third soccer player to win the Honda-Broderick Cup (awarded to the College Woman of the Year).

Although Sinclair will have other opportunities at Summer Games gold, and at the World Cup (being hosted by Canada in 2015), there is no question that should those goals go unachieved, Sinclair will always be a Canadian sporting legend. As Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain were two of the first legends in United States women’s soccer, Sinclair has cemented her legacy as the first Canadian soccer superstar.

2012 ESPN Body Issue has Summer Games flair

In recent years, athletes such as Lindsey Vonn, Maria Sharapova and Danica Patrick have been considered among the most beautiful in the world. The ESPN 2012 Body Issue clearly shows that there may be some new athletes to consider for such an honor.

While the images still left something to the imagination, there is no question that the stunning, alluring beauty of these athletes forces fans to see them in a whole new light. Although every athlete (male and female) appears nude in the ESPN Body Issue, there is no question that these are highly conditioned athletes.

Although the fact that these athletes are portrayed nude would indicate a certain degree of vulnerability, their nudity is also empowering, and shows a unique strength and courage. It is not everyone who would have the courage to be featured nude and have their appearance potentially criticized. Several female athletes from the Body Issue are competing in the London Summer Games (Candice Parker, Abby Wambach, Daniela Hantuchova) and the Paralympic Games (Oksana Masters), while others have been in Summer Games past (Anna Tunicliffe).

Candace Parker is clearly one of the most talented basketball players in the world. Her photo and illuminating smile make a strong case that she is just as attractive as fellow WNBA superstar and rival,  Lauren Jackson. If the two ever played on together, that would truly give new meaning to the word Dream Team.

Superstar tennis player Daniela Hantuchova may not have won the gold medal at the 2012 London Summer Games but she may prove to be just as popular as Maria Sharapova with her photos. Mentored by tennis great Martina Navratolova, the native of Slovakia was defeated by Caroline Wozniacki in the Summer Games. Having also appeared in the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (one of the few athletes to have appeared in both publications), the classically trained pianist also appeared on one of six special edition covers for the Body Issue.

In following teammate Hope Solo, who appeared in the 2011 ESPN Body Issue, US soccer player Abby Wambach looks like a Greek god in her photo. Although Wambach is not a sex symbol like Solo, the Florida Gator Athletic Hall of Fame inductee who scored the gold medal winning goal at the 2004 Athens Games displays a physique that looks like it was carved from marble. Her photos show a quiet dignity to her, a strength and toughness  that is unmatched. One that can withstand the sucker punch that she endured at the hands of a Columbian player in a 3-0 victory at the 2012 Summer Games (in which she managed to score a goal). The second highest all-time goal scorer in the history of FIFA women’s soccer, her shoulders look strong enough to carry the expectation of USA Soccer on them.

Paralympic athlete Oksana Masters also appears in the publication. Despite her affliction, she proves that people with disabilities can also be beautiful. Born in the Ukraine, Masters was a double knee amputee due to birth deformities caused by radiation poisoning inuterio. Rowing since the age of 13, Masters is as inspiring as she is beautiful. In a society where people with disabilities fight for equality, there is also a sexual struggle that exists. A struggle that the Body Issue may help to overcome.

Former bronze medalist at Beijing, Ronda Rousey (featured on one of six collectible covers) is one of the top female athletes in Ultimate Fighting. While UFC is not everyone’s sport of choice, Rousey has proven that it is not just the ring girls of UFC (such as Arianny Celeste) that are the attractive females of the promotion. Having co-hosted on the syndicated television program TMZ, the top ranked fighter is quickly becoming a household name.

Despite their stunning beauty, these captivating images will augment discussion and debate among sports purists. Whether these images are art or filthy is not a topic to be discussed here, but the publicity (and controversy) has resulted in fans already clamoring to see which of their favourite athletes will be in the 2013 edition.