After her incredible performance at Rio 2016, swimmer Penny Oleksiak has been selected as this year’s recipient of the Lou Marsh Trophy.
On Tuesday morning, a panel of more than 30 media members from across the country discussed, debated, and then voted on who should be acknowledged as Canada’s top athlete of the year.
In the end, Oleksiak with her four Olympic medals was the consensus selection.
At 16-years-old, Oleksiak became Canada’s youngest ever Olympic champion in Rio when she tied for the gold medal in the 100m freestyle in Olympic record time with American Simone Manuel. She also won silver in the 100m butterfly and anchored both the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays to bronze to tie with Victor Davis as Canada’s most decorated Olympic swimmer. She went on to be Canada’s flagbearer at the Closing Ceremony.
“It was pretty exciting when I found out,” Oleksiak said on a conference call. “I was in law class and I knew that it was on the table that I might win and I was really nervous to see who would win, so the first thing I told my teacher when I walked in the class was that I would be on the phone during class and I was just watching for something on Twitter.”
The first Canadian athlete to win four medals at a single summer Games, Oleksiak is one of the youngest winners of the Lou Marsh Trophy, named in honour of a former sports editor of the Toronto Star. She is the first swimmer to win the award since Mark Tewksbury in 1992, who was also Canada’s last Olympic swimming champion before Oleksiak.
“Going into Rio I definitely had my doubts about myself and didn’t think I would be able to even get into finals,” Oleksiak reflected. “I think I proved to myself that I trained pretty hard last year and that I was able to exceed expectations.”
Oleksiak’s first breakout of 2016 came at the national trials in April when she won both the 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly in national record times, establishing a junior world record in the former. At 15, she was the youngest swimmer to qualify for the Canadian Olympic team. She capped the year with four medals at the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) in Windsor, Ontario, taking bronze in the 100m freestyle, silver in the 4x100m medley relay and a pair of gold medals in the 4x50m and 4x200m freestyle relays.
There were a number of athletes who would have all been worthy winners. Included in that list were triple Olympic medallist sprinter Andre De Grasse, Olympic gold medallist high jumper Derek Drouin, golfer Brooke Henderson and hockey player Sidney Crosby, who has won twice previously.
As for how she would celebrate the honour, Oleksiak noted that she had a test to study for, but perhaps, if she was lucky, there would be some takeout for dinner.
The country’s highest athletic honour was first awarded in 1936. That year’s winner was track and field athlete Phil Edwards, who had just won his fifth career Olympic bronze medal at the Games in Berlin. The Lou Marsh Trophy has been handed out annually since then, with the exception of 1942 to 1944 because of the Second World War.
Oleksiak joins this list of Lou Marsh Trophy winners from the past decade:
2015 – Carey Price (hockey)
2014 – Kaillie Humphries (bobsleigh)
2013 – Jon Cornish (football)
2012 – Christine Sinclair (soccer)
2011 – Patrick Chan (figure skating)
2010 – Joey Votto (baseball)
2009 – Sidney Crosby (hockey)
2008 – Chantal Petitclerc (wheelchair racing)
2007 – Sidney Crosby (hockey)
2006 – Cindy Klassen (speed skating)