It’s a bit of a shame there isn’t something more formal.
Be it a ceremony, dinner, what have you, the coronation of Canada’s top athlete is an honour that deserves a little pageantry.
Never mind the spectacle that would come with a room filled with some of the best, most revered, most influential people this country has ever produced, but the scene it would offer the winner that’s worked their entire life to achieve the same standard of excellence. And did.
Imagine that athlete aiming to put into words what that honour means while addressing their idols and inspirations. It would be incredible, because it’s that association that makes the recognition so special.
Now this isn’t to knock those over at the Toronto Star, who organize the vote with help from media members from across the country, including Yahoo Canada Sports. Carrying on the near century-old tradition of honouring Canada’s top athlete in the name of a former editor at the paper, they have done a tremendous job of including all sports and determining the recipients based on merit and merit alone. Besides, let alone the cost, it would be logistically impossible to recruit each past winner – many of whom are still in competition – to help formally introduce the next member of the fraternity on an annual basis.
But man, it would be so cool.
The Lou Marsh Trophy may lack pomp, but its enormity – and what the recognition stands for – is in no way lost on the recipient.
“It’s in a class of its own,” said Kaillie Humphries, the two-time defending Olympic champion, about the Lou Marsh Trophy she won in 2014.
“When you win something for simply being who you are, (while) working toward being the best version of yourself, that’s the greatest feeling. It means everything I had done until that point meant something more to Canada than just me pursuing my dream, and they wanted me to know it.
“That’s power beyond measure, and why it’s as great as my medals.”
Said former running back Jon Cornish, who became the first CFL player to win the honour in 44 years when he accepted it in 2013: “The Lou Marsh was the greatest achievement of my lifetime.”
Reflection has allowed both Humphries and Cornish to put winning the Lou Marsh into proper perspective. An honour few ever dream of, it takes a little time — and a little learning — for the winners to truly appreciate the place they have carved out in Canadian history.
And such introspection is rare, because we normally hear from these athletes well before the initial shock has worn off.
Kayaker Adam van Koeverden explained that he, then 22, was studying for exams when he got the call, and “oblivious” to the selection process ongoing. He had figured the objective nature of his sport — “It’s so simple, just get your boat across that line, before any of the other boats,” he explained — wouldn’t register with a group of voters using subjective means to separate the many tremendous athletic achievements that came out of that Olympic year.
Likewise, Humphries never imagined she would gain consideration as a dominant athlete in a sport that few have knowledge about, and even fewer have experience with.
“I had heard of it before, but never assumed someone like myself would win it. Before me were such accomplished athletes, much more recognizable than I, so I didn’t think it would ever happen.”
Invariably, each winner already achieved incredible success in their chosen crafts the year they won the Lou Marsh. For Cornish, it was winning the CFL’s most outstanding player award (the first by a Canadian in 35 years) and the Grey Cup in the same season, while for Humphries and van Koeverden it was gold at the Olympics.
For this reason, it might seem like just “icing on the cake” from an outsider’s perspective. Because we have witnessed not just the great success those athletes achieved, but raw emotion in those moments as well. It seems like nothing could possibly compare.
When you think of Donovan Bailey, it’s 9.84 in Atlanta, not the Lou Marsh. For Sidney Crosby it’s the Golden Goal, while for Christine Sinclair it’s her heroic performance in London at the 2012 Olympics.
That’s what the culmination of a life’s work looks like.
But those moments are also black and white, like van Koeverden’s boat (or Humphries’ sled) crossing the finish line the fastest.
The Lou Marsh is different in that it transcends what happens on the field of play. It’s the context, and an athlete discovering their place, which allows one to truly grasp what it means to enter — as Humphries put it — “royalty.”
“(The previous winners were) the athletes who I look up to, who I have heard of my whole life, who I would classify as far greater than myself. To be amongst that list makes me feel very special,” Humphries said, admitting that she had to look back and research past winners.
“Makes me feel like I’ve won the lottery.”
Cornish echoed that sentiment:
“The people we grew up watching, idolizing, impersonating, and just trying to learn anything we could from. As a group, I would have difficulty finding another group in Canada more recognizable, more precious or more cherished.
“Lou Marsh recipients are a part of Canadian heritage.”
An honour that gives past winners more and more of an appreciation with the most outstanding athletic performance from a Canadian that year, but also one made even more meaningful in that it reflects the values that most people in this country hold dear.
“It’s actually a lot like Canada if you think about it,” said van Koeverden. “Canadians come from all over the world and we’ve each got a different story.
“We embrace diversity and cultural differences, and the list of past winners are kind of all over the map also. We’ve got plenty of hockey and track and field on there but we’ve also got a race-car driver and some golf and synchronized swimming and wheelchair racing.
“I love Canada for that.”
And how Canada loves its athletes.
Yahoo Canada Sports’ (unofficial) 2017 Lou Marsh ballot:
- Sidney Crosby (38 points)
- Joey Votto (33 points)
- Connor McDavid (19 points)
- Denis Shapovalov (10 points)
- Brooke Henderson, Mikael Kingsbury (4 points)
Editor’s note: Yahoo Canada Sports managing editor Dan Toman is among the official voters for the award, which will be announced Tuesday December 12. The above ballot does not necessarily reflect his vote.