The Canadian Press
Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies, who shone on soccer’s biggest stages in 2020, has been voted winner of the Lionel Conacher Award as The Canadian Press male athlete of the year.
Davies, who turned 20 on Nov. 2, won worldwide praise for his pace and athleticism at left fullback while helping Bayern fill its trophy case. Davies and the German powerhouse captured the Champions League, Bundesliga title, DFB Cup and UEFA Super Cup in 2020.
Individually the Canadian was named Bundesliga rookie of the season for 2019-20 and was voted to the FIFPRO Best 11 by his peers, becoming the first North American to make the men’s all-star squad. He is the third-youngest player to earn men’s World 11 status behind Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt and French forward Kylian Mbappe.
“It’s been a fantastic year for Alphonso,” said Canada coach John Herdman. “He’s flown the flag for Canada, he’s been a real bright spot on the sporting landscape in a time where we really needed some bright spots.
“And the awards are thoroughly deserved. He’s doing things at the highest level in the world game … And he’s Canadian, he’s from Edmonton. I think for all of us, it’s just something we can be proud of. And for those young players, it’s that reminder that anything’s possible, anything’s possible for a Canadian.”
Davies received 35 of 67 votes by sports editors, writers, broadcasters across the country.
“A Canadian at the pinnacle of world soccer? It doesn’t get much easier (of a pick) than that,” said Hamilton Spectator sports editor Jeff Day.
“Less than two years after last suiting up for the Vancouver Whitecaps, Alphonso Davies showed his talents on the global stage in the world’s most popular sport, eviscerating the Barcelona defence at one point in the quarterfinal as Bayern Munich stormed to a Champions League victory to complete a historic treble,” said Paul Attfield, sports reporter for the Globe and Mail.
Davies is the first soccer player to win the Conacher Award, joining such Canadian sporting icons as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe, Donovan Bailey and Ferguson Jenkins.
“A lot of great Canadian athletes have won it, so it’s an honour to be the first soccer player to do so,” Davies told The Canadian Press via email.
Kansas City Chiefs lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who won the Super Bowl in February before opting out of the 2020 NFL season after working in a long-term care facility in his home province at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic’s first wave, was second with 25 votes. Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray was the only other with multiple votes (three).
The choice of Davies completed a soccer sweep among the CP individual sports awards. On Monday, Canada captain Christine Sinclair won the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as the top Canadian female athlete. She also won in 2012, after leading Canada to Olympic bronze at the London Games.
The team of the year will be unveiled Wednesday.
Sinclair, a 37-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., has long been the face of Canadian soccer. Davies has joined her in rapid-fire fashion.
Herdman says Davies and Sinclair share more than just soccer skills.
“The one character trait that I’ve seen from both of them is a level of humility,” said Herdman. “But when they’re on the field, they are fierce, fierce custodians of this shirt and patriots of this country. You see that in their effort, in their desire to win and the passion they play with.”
It is to Davies’ credit that he has reached such heights on the field during such a difficult year.
“It hasn’t always been easy this year, not just for me, but for many people out there,” Davies said. “A lot of people are in much tougher situations than me and I am very fortunate to be where I am, so I try to remember that and stay humble whenever things feel tough.
“Playing soccer has always been an outlet for me, so being able to train and compete really helped, and I hope everything we accomplished at Bayern helped bring some joy into people’s lives.”
Davies was also voted Canada Soccer’s Men’s Player of the Year and was co-winner with Duvernay-Tardif of the Lou Marsh Trophy, presented by the Toronto Star to the Canadian athlete of the year.
Davies turned heads in late February in Champions League action at Chelsea when he set up Bayern’s third goal with a lightning run down the left flank and cross to Robert Lewandowski for a tap-in in the 76th minute and a 3-0 win in the first leg of a round-of-16 showdown.
“Alphonso Davies is a world-class left back,” former U.S. international and current TV pundit Stuart Holden said on social media. “Top five in world soccer right now easy.”
In June, Davies was clocked at 36.51 km/h in the first half of a win over Werder Bremen, according to the Bundesliga. That erased the fastest recorded speed in league history (36.19 km/h by Dortmund’s Achraf Hakimi) since detailed data collection began in 2011.
Veteran Bayern forward Thomas Mueller dubbed Davies “the FC Bayern Road Runner,” referencing the speedy cartoon character.
In August, Davies stood out again in Bayern’s 8-2 beatdown of Barcelona in Champions League play in Lisbon. Davies set up Bayern’s fifth goal in the 63rd minute with a sensational run down the left flank.
The Canadian known as Phonzie eluded three Barca players, leaving Portuguese international Nelson Semedo in his wake before racing past several more defenders into the penalty box and sending a perfect pass to Joshua Kimmich to slot in from close range.
“`Best left back in the world!” tweeted Canadian international Ashley Lawrence.
With a winning smile and playful way about him, Davies has won a legion of fans on social media with 3.3 million followers on Instagram, three million on TikTok and 239,300 on Twitter.
Bayern rewarded Davies in April with a contract extension that runs through June 2025.
“Alphonso Davies is a player who has already achieved a high level of performance at a young age and at the same time still has great potential for development,” said Oliver Kahn, an executive board member and former star goalkeeper at Bayern. “Anyone who can consistently play at the top level at FC Bayern at such a young age can have a great career ahead of them.”
Davies is also a key player for Canada with five goals and seven assists in 17 appearances, playing both as a left back and winger.
Canada and Davies face a full schedule in 2021 with World Cup qualifying finally starting in March.
Davies says he is excited at what lies ahead for Canada.
“We have a lot of young, exciting talent coming through, players are playing in competitive leagues who are hungry,” he said. “And we are all ready to make history for Canada Soccer in 2021.”
Herdman is also looking forward to the future for Davies.
“We’re all proud of what he’s achieved this year. But I think we can see there’s still more to come. And that consistency now is probably Alphonso’s next big challenge. Can he repeat and can he take it to the next level?”
Davies was signed by Bayern from the Vancouver Whitecaps in the summer of 2018 in a US$22-million transfer deal, an MLS record at the time. He started to train with his new team in November after the end of the Whitecaps season.
Davies’ life story is inspirational. His parents fled their home in Monrovia, Liberia, to escape a civil war, ending up at a refugee camp in Ghana where Davies was born.
He came to Canada at the age of five.
Davies shared his story at the FIFA Congress in Moscow in June 2018 as part of the joint North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup. Canadian soccer officials credit his powerful presentation for helping push the bid over the finish line.
“It was a hard life. But when I was five years old, a country called Canada welcomed us in,” he told FIFA delegates.
It was not all roses for Davies in 2020. He tore ankle ligaments Oct. 24 in Bayern’s 5-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, returning to action Dec. 9 in Champions League group play against Lokomotiv Moscow.
Davies and Canadian women’s international Jordyn Huitema, who are a couple away from the pitch, had to endure racism. A photo of Davies, who is Black, and Huitema, who is white, on Instagram while enjoying a vacation in Spain drew more than 14,000 comments including some that were offensive.
Canada Soccer, Herdman, Canada women’s coach Bev Priestman and Bayern president Herbert Hainer all spoke out against the racism.
Away from the field, Davies has used his name to help the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a UN agency with the mandate to protect and help refugees.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 29, 2020
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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