Prost Amerika journalist Asif Burhan catches up with Karina LeBlanc during the FIFA Conference of Equality and Inclusion to talk about her career.
Looking back the FIFA Women’s World Cup quarter-final, it was the moment the game took off in England but for Canada it was heartbreak and the end of your career so what are your memories of the World Cup in general and that game?
Having the World Cup at home was special because obviously when I first started playing there was like 8 people in the stand. To end my career at a sold-out stadium [it was the biggest-ever Canadian crowd to watch their National Team in any sport] it was one of those things where the game has grown so much there was beauty in that. There was beauty in the way our country responded to it. There was sadness in the way the game ended and there was sadness obviously it being my last game ever wearing that jersey for Canada. But looking beyond, looking at the women’s game, there been so many positives from it. As you said, it was the moment that England took to their women’s team and for me part of the legacy of being an athlete is leaving the game better than when you came into it. To be able to see not only our country be proud of our girls but England have their country be proud of their girls. That was something pretty special.
You obviously didn’t know before the game it would be your last so can you give me some insight into how you felt and what you did at the end?
You know you try not to think about that. I was hoping my last game would be the Final of the World Cup at BC Place. For me I wanted to retire at home and be able to do that last wave in front of the Canadians who inspired me for almost 18 years of my life playing for the National Team. Before that game and during the game you’re just wanting to win, because you’re wanting to win.
Even when the last whistle went down and I went over to one of my team-mates and she said “I’m sorry” – once she said sorry, I was like what?! I think that was when it hit me. I thought, this is it. I got a couple of emotional words, Christine Sinclair gave me a hug and she said to me “you’ve made me a better women”, that was pretty special. Then you just go through that moment.
I think that’s what that last lap was about for me, I’m usually one of the last ones to sign autographs anyway. I usually drive the security crazy, because they’re like “Ok Le Blanc, let’s go!” I remember being that young girl where my hero didn’t have a second for me and then I met somebody who signed an autograph for me and I said I’d never be anyone but that person. It was about getting that last lap and about thanking the fans. I think that’s what that moment was about. That, as special as it may have been for a fan, it was just as special for me.
After being part of the National Team for so long, was it difficult watching Canada last summer in the Olympics?
Rio? I loved it! I went there on the other side. I went there as an analyst and as media. I enjoyed every moment of it. I left the game when I wanted to leave the game where a lot of athletes don’t get to. A lot of athletes have to leave because of injury or not being good enough. I think that’s what was special about it, I got to walk away when I wanted to walk away. For the girls to get back-to-back bronze medals, I was crying with them on the podium. Absolutely being so proud of them. That was the biggest thing for me, I felt so proud being a Canadian, so proud to be part of their journey. The next generation now grows up expecting to win medals.
Could you just talk a little about your time at Portland Thorns?
I mean, for me, my time in Portland, I’ll never forget. They had a chant “You’ll never beat Karina, you’ll never beat Karina”. I went back there this year and they have their different chants, they have their different moments. They make you feel like gold. I think that’s what creates the atmosphere – they make you feel so special.
Even when I got traded to Chicago and even when I went back, I knew there was a chant they always used for opposing goalkeepers and they did it for me and I put my thumbs up and the place went crazy. They make you feel special, that’s one of the most important parts of being an athlete, you want to play for your city and want to feel loved and feel they believe in you. That’s one thing that city has got down. They love the game, whether it’s men or women, it does not matter, they’ll show up and cheer and give you that extra bit of energy. For me, that’s what will always make Portland one of the most special places in my heart because even when I go back there, not as a player, they make you feel special.
Could I get your thoughts on the recent She Believes Cup?
That’s what’s great about the women’s game, they’re used to be clear favorites but there’s not any more, the game has definitely grown. That’s what’s beautiful about it, it’s truly anybody’s game. As you see in the She Believes Cup, like England beat the US on their home soil and it’s no longer like “Oh my God!” Anyone can win on any given day because the game has grown, players have become better. It’s about teams now, not individual players.
What are your thoughts on the number of American players coming over to Europe now, is that something you ever considered during your career?
I think it’s part of the growth. I’m happy for those players. For me, the best league at the time was in the US. I wanted to play in the best league against the best players. Now there’s so many good leagues. You get a different style of play, different coaches. You get to experience the game in a different way. I think that’s what beautiful about it. There’s no longer just one place to play.
And If you were to pick a team to win the Euros?