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This was always going to be a two-woman race.

Scratch that. Maybe the Olympic goal post should have been in there somewhere, but as a rule, Canada's top athlete requires a heartbeat.

In the end, amongst the humans, the bottom line trumped star power.

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Bobsledder Kaillie Humphries was announced Thursday as the winner of the Lou Marsh Trophy.

Humphries competes in a small sport but dominated it so thoroughly that it often seemed she competed only against herself.

The 29-year-old from Calgary made every podium through the 2013-14 World Cup season. She repeated as a gold medalist at Sochi. She was Canada's flag bearer at the closing ceremonies of the Winter Games – generally speaking, the white smoke that precedes by several months a Lou Marsh pronouncement.

"It was a bit of a surprise," Humphries said. She's probably not the only one. "But an amazing honour."

The four other finalists included tennis stars Eugenie Bouchard and Milos Raonic, L.A. Kings defenceman Drew Doughty and lacrosse player Johnny Powless.

You end most years feeling fairly certain you know who deserves to be tapped for the Lou Marsh. Then they roll you into a boardroom to argue about it for two hours, and you begin to doubt yourself.

There is an understandable tendency to want to give this award to an Olympian – especially a winter Olympian. We're good on snow and ice. That's who we are. The men and women who compete for us in those quadrennial games give Canada its fullest identity in the wider world.

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After Sochi, you were tempted to pencil in Humphries's name in pen. Then Bouchard continued to rise.

The 20-year-old from Westmount, Que., created 2014's most indelible sporting moment when she walked out onto Wimbledon's centre court on a sunny Saturday in July. She lost that day. Had she won, this vote would have gone differently.

This is sports' most enduring debate when it comes to defining greatness: Is winning its own rationale, regardless of the circumstances? Put another way, can you be great without being a champion?

Humphries competes in the nichest of niche sports. She's recently broken the gender barrier, competing ably as a pilot in four-man sleds.

The ostensible goal is to pressure officials to include women in four-person events. However, you get the strong sense that she also does it because she pines for the challenge. That's the best definition of total dominance – when a competitor finds himself or herself having to invent new performance targets.

Humphries is a name you know – and perhaps a face as well. But she's in the background of your mind, along with most other Olympians who don't take part in romance events such as hockey or track.

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On the level of star power, you could make the argument that Bouchard is already the most globally recognized Canadian sports figure since Ben Johnson – and for better reasons.

She made three Grand Slam semis this year. No other Canadian had ever made one. She went to the Wimbledon finals. That day, she woke up to an egregiously skewed takedown plastered all over the front page of the Daily Mail. When The Mail thinks your character is worth assassinating, you know you've arrived.

She was the year's repeating headline, but she didn't win when it counted. And so, she didn't win Thursday.

There's no right or wrong in this. It's endlessly debatable. (For the record, Bouchard topped my ballot.)

Perhaps there's one thing that pushed Humphries over the top: the reason she competes.

Humphries does this for Canada. Of course, she presumably gets some satisfaction from the work. If working in subzero temps at five in the morning is your idea of fun, this is one of the few jobs you're going to like.

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But aside from a few flickers of wrapped-in-the-flag glory, it's all very transitory. You take 15 years out of your life to do a public service, and then – like most other top amateurs – you get to start your real life.

Bouchard competes for herself. She plays for Canada internationally, but this is about what she can do on her own on any given day. That's the definition of "professional." She makes an awful lot of money doing it.

Again, neither right nor wrong. It's just a reality.

These two remarkable women are the yin and yang of the sports world. They both do it for love of the game, but only one gets adequately rewarded for the effort.

That's why giving this award to Humphries seems so Canadian. We're not just acknowledging her accomplishments. We're thanking her for making the rest of us look good.

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