The coronavirus pandemic has forced so many of us to adjust to new realities quickly, but few people went from full speed to a dead stop like Christine Sinclair.
Sinclair and her Canadian national women’s team had to deal with the crucible of an Olympic qualification tournament at the start of the year. On the way to what would become an Olympic berth when Canada earned a spot in the finals, Sinclair notched the two goals she needed to tie and then surpass Abby Wambach of the United States for the most goals ever scored in international soccer play. And then the roller coaster screeched to a halt.
“It has been a wild year,” Sinclair says over the phone. “To go through the stress of qualifying … and then for me personally to score the goals and get that out of the way, that was definitely something that was weighing on me for the past year and a bit.”
That was followed by a tight semifinal win over Costa Rica to book the spot in Tokyo, which was both exciting and something of a relief. “And then all of a sudden it’s just, like, ‘Bam.’ No more.”
Sinclair is speaking from Tampa, Fla., where she stopped to pick up her dog, Charlie, last month after a stretch of national-team duty. The plan was to get the pooch from a friend, maybe spend a couple of days in the sun, then head to the Pacific Northwest and her club team in Portland. Instead, she’s on her sixth week in Florida.
“This has actually been a nice, quick reset,” Sinclair says, noting the grind of the national-team schedule that began in December. “I mean, it was nice for a couple weeks. Now it’s getting a little old. I definitely wake up and miss training and miss soccer.”
But it has also told her that, at 36 years old, she is not done with the sport. “I still know that I want to play, you know what I mean? Having it taken away from you, I really need it,” Sinclair says.
For now, the time in Florida is instead spent working out alone, or in online sessions with the national team, with occasional trips to the golf course. The local courses were never closed. There is no sharing of power carts, though, in one concession to the worldwide pandemic. Sinclair says the golf game has improved a bit. “It couldn’t get much worse,” she says. “I don’t care how I do. I’m so competitive, but for me, golf for some reason, I don’t care. It’s nice to get out. It’s peaceful.”
But while this was obviously not the plan in an Olympic year, Sinclair says the decision to push Tokyo 2020 into (hopefully) 2021 didn’t come as a shock. “You could just see it coming. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see what was coming throughout the world,” she says. How could they train? How could other athletes even try to qualify? Then the Canadian Olympic Committee pulled out, and the IOC finally made their decision. “I was very quick to wrap my head around, like, OK, it’s another year to get better, it’s another year for our team to get better,” Sinclair says.
The team that was one of the best Canadian stories at Rio 2016 hasn’t quite reached those levels since, but now they have extra time to improve.
For Sinclair, if and when a national-team program resumes, their will be no pressure to earn an Olympic spot, no pressure to break the goal-scoring record. Asked if she takes a particular pride in setting the new standard at a time when Canadian women like Bianca Andreescu and Brooke Henderson have set records of their own, Sinclair answers before the question is finished.
“Of course,” she said. “The Canadian women have been kicking butt. Yeah, as a female athlete it’s been incredible to see Canadians on the world stage like stepping up, and becoming some of the best in the world. I remember growing up, this wasn’t the case. I idolized Roberto Alomar and now young kids have strong female role models to look up to. My nieces are all about Bianca now.”
Those nieces, Kaitlyn and Kenzie, appear in a social-media post in which Sinclair and the kids show off their “We Are All Team Canada” signs, part of a Canadian Olympic Committee initiative meant to spread the message that everyone can do their part to fight the pandemic. Canadians are encouraged to make and post their own signs.
“This is our time to unite as a country,” Sinclair says. “Each individual is being asked to do their part, and for most of us, that means staying at home. It can be boring or hard, but you’re doing it for a bigger cause,” she says.
“My mom’s in a care home, so I’m doing this for her.”