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Class Action, Nash and Klassen.

And a Prairie Woman Shall Lead Them…?

First things first: this is not like baseball star Larry Walker being National League MVP and getting “beat by a car” for the Lou Marsh trophy as Canada’s outstanding athlete (that car, a very fast one that season, was driven by Jacques Villeneuve in Formula 1). Today the TorinoFabulous Cindy Klassen was given the award, and I applaud her heartily. For reasons that the Globe’s Stephen Brunt outlined on Saturday, it was a brilliant year for sweaty Canucks but, like him, I hold out for Steve Nash. (I wrote about him, with appropriate playground bedazzlement, here.)

The Lou Marsh voters, sportwriters all, tend to prefer international athletes, those not getting the usual Canadian buzz for whichever homeboy leads the NHL scoring parade. (Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux combined for 16 Art Ross trophies as scoring champs and 12 NHL MVPs, but “only” five Lou Marsh awards. They were beaten, for example, by Olympians like Gaetan Boucher, Susan Nattrass (target shooting!), Carolyn Waldo (synchro swimming!!), Myriam Bedard (betcha can’t name her sport) and Silken Laumann. Oh, and by a guy called Ben Johnson. Twice. Oops.) Villeneuve was a bit of a departure from this tradition of honouring competitors in sports with a lower profile (and lower salaries), and I won’t start ranting about the dubious athleticism of car jockeys. The choice of Klassen, though, who will continue to be the focus of high-pressure expectation and excitement as the Games come to Vancouver in 2010, is one that honours a great athlete and addresses, in small measure, the usual disregard for female sport. Bravo, say I.

I can’t get much righteous indignation going, though, at the selection of a marvellous Olympian like Klassen. She was a powerhouse at the Torino Winter Games, the most outstanding athlete there and the leader of a superb crew of Canadian women athletes with her five medals, including an individual gold and two silvers. She’s the most decorated Canadian Olympian ever, the 2006 speedskating World Cup champion., and bubbled radiantly with grace and joy at her accomplishments and, wonderfully, at those of her teammates. (I wrote about her with great enthusiasm here last February.)

But I can’t help but say this: how many basketball players are there in the world? Of all those many millions, how many times will a Canadian be judged, for the second straight year, the most valuable to his team at the highest level? Fine. And how many competitive female speedskaters are there on the planet at any given time? Would there be more than ten thousand? I feel like a jerk for pointing out numbers like that, because Cindy Klassen represents much that is most honourable in sport, including the chance for young women to see a wonderfully strong role model and young men to (briefly?) cheer a strong, accomplished and fully-clothed woman. The Olympics are one of the few occasions when female athletes can take centre stage, albeit too often for events with sequins and swimsuits. So it is a sweet thing for this attention to a superb competitor to continue. But the greatest accomplishment by a Canadian athlete, in this or nearly any other year, is that of Mr. Nash.

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