TORONTO – Penny Oleksiak’s incredible 2016 accomplishments have been recognized with arguably the greatest honour in Canadian sports: The Lou Marsh Trophy.
A panel of journalists met and voted Tuesday to choose the 16-year-old swimming sensation for the award, which recognizes Canada’s top athlete. Her name will now be engraved alongside such sporting legends as Barbara Ann Scott, Maurice Richard, Nancy Greene, Terry Fox, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Nash, Chantal Petitclerc, Sidney Crosby and Christine Sinclair. Paralympic swimming star Aurelie Rivard was also considered, as were Crosby, Andre De Grasse, Brooke Henderson, Milos Raonic and Derek Drouin.
“This means a lot to me!! Thank you so so much,” tweeted Oleksiak, who was in law class at her Toronto high school when the announcement was made.
She is the eighth swimmer to win the award, which was instituted in 1936 in honour of Lou Marsh, a prominent Canadian athlete, referee, and former sports editor of the Toronto Star who died in 1936.
Oleksiak collected four medals, including one gold, at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. She became the world’s first Olympic champion born in the 2000s and Canada’s first summer Olympian to win four medals at a single Games. She was also named Canada’s flag-bearer for the closing ceremonies. She went on to win four more medals, including two gold, at the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m), in Windsor, Ont., last week. She finished the year with 10 new Canadian records between long-course and short-course competition, some broken multiple times.
Oleksiak is the first swimmer since Mark Tewksbury in 1992 to win the trophy, fittingly, as her 100-m freestyle gold medal was also Canada’s first in swimming since Tewksbury. That performance stands as an Olympic record and one of four world junior records she lowered in 2016.
“To be named Canada’s top athlete was a huge honour for me, and I couldn’t be happier for Penny,” Tewksbury said. “As swimmers we train for years in the hopes of reaching our Olympic dreams without imagining much else. Penny led Canada to four medals in the pool in Rio, which became Canada’s greatest summer Olympics. With a couple world titles thrown in to end 2016, I once again proudly pass the baton – this time for the Lou Marsh Award as athlete of the year!”
The announcement came exactly 50 years from the last time a female swimmer, Elaine Tanner, was honoured.
“Penny inspires us all by achieving greatness with humility and demonstrating an unwavering belief in herself,” Tanner said. “No doubt Penny exemplifies the definition of a true champion. Congratulations Penny on your amazing achievements and for being such a true champion for all.”
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