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Monday, September 27, 2021

Youth movement: Gold-winning soccer stars inspired by Canada’s past glories

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TORONTO — Canada’s gold-medal-winning Olympic women’s soccer team isn’t just inspiring girls across the country; its roster at Tokyo 2020 is made up of young women who were directly inspired by the team’s past performances.

The seeds planted at London 2012, a Games during which Christine Sinclair became a household name, and Rio 2016, not to mention the World Cup hosted by Canada in 2015, have already borne fruit. As high as Team Canada was able to climb at these events, it could never reach the mountaintop. But all of that hard work and heartbreak manifested Friday in the form of 20-year-old Julia Grosso of Vancouver, who with one swift kick turned nearly 10 years of sweat and tears into unbridled joy.

Canada’s women are finally golden.

“I don’t really think there’s a word that would justify what this means to myself to the team to former players, staff, and all of Canada,” Canada forward Janine Beckie told CTV News Channel on Saturday. “I think that the 2012 team inspired multiple generations of soccer players and Canadians. Then you look at the 2016 team, and that was a team that was expected to get to the medal round and, unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done in the semifinal.

“But to bring home bronze and to step on the podium for a second Olympics in a row was again another opportunity to inspire a generation like Julia’s, and now we’re seeing the fruits of our labour from years past, and all these young superstars are now coming through the system and having huge impacts on our team. If you look at probably what the average age was of our lineup that was in the game during those penalties, it would be pretty shocking to most teams to see how young our squad is.”

Beckie’s point is well made. Of the six women who stepped up to the spot for penalty kicks against Sweden in the final, Grosso was the youngest at 20, followed by Deanne Rose (22), Jessie Fleming (23), Vanessa Gilles (25), Ashley Lawrence (26) and Adriana Leon (28).

Grosso, who scored the golden goal herself, admitted the women’s teams of the past being a huge inspiration for her.

“For me, when I was younger, I always looked up to Christine Sinclair, Desiree Scott and Sophie Schmidt, and so they inspired me to keep following my dreams,” she said. “What inspired me the most was the 2015 World Cup and I got to some games in Vancouver, and I know that inspired me, so I hope I do the same and inspire other girls and that’s the ultimate goal. This is just to inspire and to keep pushing younger girls to follow their dreams.”

Those who still doubt the power of youth witnessing inspiring feats on a grand stage don’t need to go very far for more examples. All one needs to do is examine what’s been dubbed The Carter Effect to see the impact Toronto Raptors superstar Vince Carter had on Canadian basketball. In a country mad about hockey, basketball has grown exponentially since the days of Vinsanity, as Canada has since produced two first-overall NBA draft picks and stars such as Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Murray and R.J. Barrett.

The same could be said about soccer and the success of the national women’s team, which has ensured that more children will grow up wanting to represent Canada on the pitch.

It’s the type of success that feeds itself. The more players there are, the more talent there is to select from. As Beckie pointed out, the secret to Canada’s victory Friday was its roster depth.

“We’ve never seen this much talent in 22 players,” she said. “To be able to bring so many players onto the pitch in a game of this magnitude and for the level, not to drop at all … that’s just a huge testament to the depth of the team and that’s what I would credit.”

In addition, Beckie advocated for the creation of a professional women’s soccer league in Canada.

“There’s a lot of room to grow,” she said. “We need a place for these young girls to be able to grow up and look toward playing domestically professionally in our own country. If you look at all the top teams around the world, they all have (domestic leagues) … there’s a lot of young girls that watch this tournament that will be superstars on this team someday so that excites me.

“Julia will probably get to play with them, so that’s exciting.”

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