Who should win the Lou Marsh Trophy?

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The Lou Marsh Trophy will be awarded tomorrow

On Wednesday, a few dozen Canadian sports media elites will gather to pick the country’s athlete of the year. When their puff of smoke (tweet) went out last year, it was to announce a tie: soccer star Alphonso Davies and NFL lineman/front-line caregiver Laurent Duvernay-Tardif both got 18 votes and shared the award because one contrarian somehow chose NBA guard Jamal Murray.

For your consideration, here are some candidates for this year’s honour:

Andre De Grasse: In an Olympic year, the Lou Marsh tends to go to an Olympian. And De Grasse was probably Canada’s most impressive individual performer at the country’s best Summer Games ever. He won the men’s 200 metres in Tokyo, becoming the first Canadian in a quarter century to capture Olympic gold on the track, and also took bronze in the 100 and 4×100. After his second consecutive Olympic podium triple, De Grasse owns more medals than any Canadian male Olympian ever.

Penny Oleksiak: The 21-year-old swimmer didn’t win gold in Tokyo, but she captured three more Olympic medals (an individual bronze, plus silver and bronze for relay teams she anchored) to become Canada’s all-time leader with seven. The Lou Marsh isn’t a lifetime achievement award, but the historical significance of Oleksiak’s performance matters.

Maggie Mac Neil: While Penny was great in Tokyo, she wasn’t Canada’s most successful swimmer. That would be Mac Neil, who won the country’s only gold medal in the pool (in the 100m butterfly) and, like Oleksiak, added a pair of relay medals. Mac Neil, who competes for the University of Michigan when she’s not with the Canadian national team, also won a pair of NCAA titles and was named the U.S. collegiate swimmer of the year.

Damian Warner: He won the unofficial title of world’s greatest all-around athlete by taking Olympic gold in the decathlon with one of the greatest performances in the sport’s history. Warner led wire to wire, set a new Olympic scoring record and became just the fourth decathlete ever to break the revered 9,000-point plateau.

Steph Labbé and Jessie Fleming: The Lou Marsh is an individual award, so it’s not really suited to honouring the team that electrified the country by winning its first-ever Olympic gold in Tokyo. But let’s try anyway. Seeing as how the Canadian women’s soccer team’s thrilling and surprising run to the title was defined by penalty-shot heroics, it feels right to single out Labbé for her fearless and fiery goaltending in those moments and Fleming for her clutch kicks. The latter delivered Canada’s monumental semifinal upset of the United States by nailing a 75th-minute penalty, then came through twice more in the gold-medal game vs. Sweden, converting another penalty before scoring on Canada’s first attempt of the shootout. We should also salute Deanne Rose for nailing her do-or-die kick in the shootout, and Julia Grosso for scoring the gold-medal clincher.

Aurélie Rivard: The 25-year-old swimmer topped all Canadians at the Tokyo Paralympic Games with five medals, including a pair of gold. She now owns 10 for her career. Honourable mention to versatile wheelchair track star Brent Lakatos, who raised his lifetime Paralympic medal total to 11 by winning four silvers — at distances ranging from 100 to 5,000 metres.

Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David: The best non-Olympic/Paralympic Canadian sports story of the year is the surprising men’s national soccer team’s getting to the brink of its first World Cup appearance since 1986. Davies is the team’s best player (this goal alone might be enough to hand him a second straight Lou Marsh) while David is a key offensive contributor who’s also leading the French league in goals this season. No Canadian has ever finished atop one of Europe’s big five soccer leagues in scoring. David’s and Davies’ World Cup qualifying quest won’t fully play out until next year, so we might be jumping the gun on their Lou Marsh candidacy.

Also up for debate this year is the name of the award itself. It was created in 1936 in honour of a respected Toronto Star sports editor who died earlier that year. But, especially when viewed through a modern lens, some of the things Lou Marsh wrote in the paper can be seen as racist or antisemitic. That’s led some to question whether it’s still appropriate for the Canadian athlete of the year award to bear his name. Read CBC Sports contributor Morgan Campbell’s thoughtful argument for renaming the Lou Marsh Trophy here.

Andre De Grasse won Canada’s first Olympic track gold in a quarter century. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Quickly…

China’s men’s hockey team was cleared to compete in the Beijing Olympics. As the host country, China has the right to enter the event. But there’s concern in the international hockey community that the Chinese will get humiliated in their group-stage games vs. Canada and the United States, which will be loaded with NHL stars, and maybe against Germany too. Some wanted to replace China with Norway, which went winless and was outscored 39-11 at the last two Olympics that included NHLers. But China got the go-ahead today from hockey’s world governing body, which is apparently satisfied with the country’s efforts to build a semi-competitive team by extending citizenship to players from other countries (including Canada) who have ties to China. Read more about the decision to let China play here.

And finally…

Two (sort of) Canadians won year-end awards. Like the Chinese men’s hockey team, we’re not above claiming international athletes as our own when it suits us. So shout-out to Emma Raducanu, the Toronto-born Brit named the Women’s Tennis Association’s newcomer of the year today after winning the U.S. Open as a qualifier ranked 150th in the world. And cheers to Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., the Montreal-born slugger who won the Tip O’Neill Award for Canadian baseball player of the year despite his identifying as Dominican for his entire life. Add them both to the list of Lou Marsh candidates? Sure, why not.

You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.

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