While the Summer Olympic Games are certainly gripping, there’s more than a few passed-over events that fail to offer the thrills of rhythmic gymnastics, diving, or beach volleyball.
Take, for example, women’s swimming. Underwater cameras are limited in their ability to show viewers what is happening below the surface, and much of the technical style of the strokes are lost when televised. Plus, without a Micheal Phelps-esque figure to boost the profile of the sport, women’s swimming is regularly marginalized for more visually engaging events.
This year, however, 16-year-old golden girl Penny Oleksiak changed that for Canadians. Specializing in butterfly and freestyle, Oleksiak became the first Canuck to win four meals in the same Summer Games, and became the country’s youngest Olympic champion by winning a gold, silver, and two bronze medals during the Rio competition.
The enormity of that performance wasn’t wasted on sports journalists. When voting opened for the prestigious Lou Marsh Trophy—an award that celebrates Canada’s top athlete, pro or amateur—Oleksiak beat out luminaries like Andre De Grasse, Milos Raonic, and even Sidney Crosby: the man who’d scooped the Conn Smythe Trophy, won the Stanley Cup, and was on pace for a 70-goal season when the ballots were counted.
Still continuing to inspire the public months after the Olympics' closing ceremony, Oleksiak has now been named the Canadian Press female athlete of the year, picking up the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award for 2016. The teenager is in good company, with past winners of the trophy including golfer Brooke Henderson, tennis player Eugenie Bouchard, hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser, and speedskaters Catriona Le May Doan and Cindy Kalssen. The Toronto native won 94 per cent of the vote in the annual survey of editors and broadcasters from across the country.
Breathing life into a once tired event, Oleksiak is proof that Canada’s national sports programs can elevate young athletes to international success.
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