LONDON -- She called it the best day of her soccer life, and it was. Canada beat France. Canada achieved its goal of winning an Olympic medal. Christine Sinclair could be happy and proud, finally.
Still, she couldn't be satisfied. Because after the Canadians played for bronze Thursday in front of thousands of empty seats in Coventry, they had to bus two hours to London. They had to watch the United States play Japan for gold in jam-packed Wembley Stadium. They had to watch the Americans win.
"It was difficult," Sinclair said Friday. "Obviously we had won the bronze, and we were absolutely thrilled with that. Yet knowing that we were so close to being in that game, and knowing that we took the Americans to the absolute brink and they have the gold medal …"
"Still a little bitter."
Still bitter about the 4-3 semifinal loss. Still bitter about the officiating – the rare, by-the-book, delay-of-game call, which led to the handball call, which led to the penalty kick, which led to the tying goal, which set up the winner in the 124th minute.
After the game, Sinclair said: “It’s a shame in a game like that that was so important, the ref decided the result before it started.” And even now, given multiple opportunities to clarify or soften her statement, Sinclair would not back down.
“It’s an emotional game,” Sinclair said. “We’d just lost a chance to a gold medal. Some of us, that’s a childhood dream – gone. Yeah, we felt it was a little unfair at times.”
With days to reflect on it, surely she didn’t mean to suggest a conspiracy, right?
“No,” she said. “It’s just frustrating that it happened in the Olympics in a game of that magnitude.”
Did she go too far?
“No,” she said.
Does she stand by her comments?
Look, the bronze is great. It is tangible proof that the Canadian women's soccer program has turned around after finishing last in last year's World Cup.
But let's face it: The bronze itself was a fluke. The Canadians could have lost 4-0, the same way they had lost to the French in the World Cup. They won because the French couldn't cash in on many, many opportunities. They won because the ball bounced right to Diana Matheson in front of an open net in the 91st minute. They won because one goal was enough.
The real story here is that the Canadians could have played for gold, are still upset they didn't get the chance and seem determined to get the chance in the future, and it all starts with their star.
"I think [the Americans] understand it as well, that we're no longer a pushover and that, you know, our games are going to be wars," Sinclair said. "It's exciting. It's exciting for the game, just the attention that that one game has brought to the sport within North America. But yeah, there's a group of us that we don't want to have that feeling again, and we don't want to see them at the top of the podium again."
Nothing personal. The Canadians are generally friendly with the Americans in real life. The soccer world is a small one, especially in North America, and they have played with or against one another for years for clubs and colleges. After the medal ceremony, Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt took a picture with American Megan Rapinoe. They all played at the University of Portland.
The Canadians also know better than to say too much about the Americans' celebration Thursday night -- T-shirts that declared "GREATNESS HAS BEEN FOUND," with the "GREATNESS" in gold.
"I mean, they're three-time gold medallists now," Sinclair said. "I don't think I necessarily would have made that shirt for myself, but I haven't won three gold medals, so I don't know."
Asked if the Canadians chatted about it amongst themselves, Sinclair laughed: "Maybe a little."
But the Sinclair found greatness, too, not to mention some of her own swagger. She scored all three Canadian goals against the United States. Each time, she gave her team the lead. This time, she made the Americans play catch-up.
"That's legendary stuff," Canada coach John Herdman said. "That was just unbelievable."
Sinclair should not be praised for what she said afterward. Neither should Herdman or Melissa Tancredi, who made similar comments to reporters and even to the referee herself. It's one thing to say the ref got it wrong; it's another to question her integrity.
But the point here is, Sinclair had had enough. All the Canadians had had enough. Sinclair, usually as soft-spoken in public as she is menacing on the pitch, wasn't going to be meek anymore. She said she wasn't worried that FIFA would discipline her before the bronze medal match.
"No," Sinclair said. "With some of the things that were said to the media, if they were going to suspend myself or Melissa Tancredi, I mean, they would have had to suspend our whole team. We were frustrated and mad. I think we refused to just be OK with it. We wanted to say things, because that's how we felt. …
“I think for so long we've been the team -- especially against the U.S. -- that we were always second. We were always behind them. I think that game, for the first time, it was like, 'No, we were going to push you to the absolute limit.' And we did that."
The challenge now is to push the Americans past the limit, to actually beat them in a big-time match, to compete on even footing with them match to match, year to year, Olympiad to Olympiad.
"I think with the Americans, they do it on a consistent basis," Sinclair said. "Us playing against the U.S., you're always going to have that one-off game. We play them so many times in friendlies, where we might tie them, we might lose by a goal, we might beat them or we might lose by six.
"I think the game against them here is the first time in a major tournament playing against the best team in the world we've showed up and been a force. The difference between them and us right now, that's how they play every game."
You'd like to think as long as Canada has Sinclair, Canada will have a chance. She plans to play when the World Cup comes to Canada in 2015 and when the Summer Games go to Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
"I'm only 29," she said, laughing.
But she will be 32 for the World Cup and 33 for the Rio Summer Games, and a lot of her teammates are getting older, too. Herdman said 60 percent of the current roster will be over 30 for the World Cup.
Even if this performance inspires a new generation of Canadian girls to play soccer, those girls are more than a decade away from making an impact on the national team. It's the teenagers playing soccer now that Canada needs to develop to keep pace with the Americans, not to mention the Japanese and other powers.
"I think we're on the edge," Sinclair said. "You look at the top teams in the world that have been there for a while, and they're consistently on the podium. They're consistently ranked in the top five in the world rankings.
"We're not there yet. We've won a bronze medal and that's it. So I think the next World Cup and the next Olympics will be very important to sort of see where we truly are at."
"Our time will come when it's ready," Herdman said. "We've got a lot of work to get done in Canada. A whole raft of work has to be done beneath this group. Our talent structure is not strong enough to be world's best. We're very lucky we've got some unbelievably gifted players at this point."
Especially Sinclair. Herdman tells a story about a practice in Phoenix. His son, Jay, put on the gloves and stood in goal. Sinclair stepped up to shoot -- then put the ball top corner and ran away celebrating.
"No mercy," Herdman said with a laugh. "No mercy in front of the goal, not even on the seven-year-old coach's son."
Stand in front of Sinclair at your own risk, no matter who you are.