Gold medalist Stephanie Labbé announces her retirement plans
By Steven Sandor | January 19, 2022
Stephanie Labbé entrenched herself as both a local and national hero in 2021. She stared down shooters with a smile as Canada beat Sweden in the women’s soccer gold-medal match at the Tokyo Olympics. She finished as runner-up in global voting as FIFA’s goalkeeper of the year. She set a new Canadian record for clean sheets (shutouts) in a year. She signed a deal that moved her professional career to France, with Paris St-Germain.
But, throughout all of this, long before the Olympics, Labbé was thinking about calling it a career. On Wednesday, she announced her plans to retire. She will play one final game — a friendly that will be scheduled this spring.
“For the past couple of years, it’s [retirement] been something that’s been on my mind, and I’ve been talking to mentors, I’ve been talking to retired players, asking them for advice,” Labbé said in a conference call held Wednesday. “In my head it was kind like ‘I feel I want to retire, I’m thinking about it’ but in my gut there was something holding me back. They all kept saying to me, ‘when you know, you know.’ And I kept saying, ‘I think I know, but I don’t know.’ I had this conflict, but it got to the point this fall where I started stepping on the field, I didn’t feel that spark and that joy and that electricity.”
Labbé’s hometown is listed as Stony Plain, but she grew up playing soccer for the Spruce Grove Saints, before graduating to the Edmonton Aviators and then a career in Europe and the NWSL, America’s professional women’s league, where she won a league championship with North Carolina. She fought to play in a North American men’s league when she signed with Foothills FC, located in Calgary. She’s a major advocate for better recognition and playing condition for female athletes. She is engaged to Olympic cyclist Georgia Simmerling.
“I truly feel that I’ve given everything to this sport, to this country,” Labbé said. “I’ve really left everything on the field… And I’m super excited about the next chapter in my life, whether that’s starting a family, continuing to affect and change this game for the better not only in Canada, but around the world.”
And, she’s still coming to terms with what it means to be a gold medalist. When athletes are in the moment, when they’ve just walked off the field, they don’t really have time to process what they’ve just achieved. They don’t really soak it in, because it all happens so fast — even when the anthem plays.
“I had such strong focus on being present and being in the moment, a lot of it didn’t really hit me until after,” she said. “Now, being able to look back and watch video and see the impact I was able to have, the main word that comes to mind is ‘proud.’ I am just proud of myself for never giving up. I’m proud of myself for continuing to push and believing in the team around me and myself, knowing at the end of the day, whether it was going to be me who was picked or not, that I was putting myself and the team in a position to win. I’m just super proud that I was able to fight for myself and show the world what I was capable of.”
Now, to the matter of that final game. It seems obvious that it should be played in Edmonton, correct? Labbé deserves one final homecoming, right?