This International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate some of Canada’s female heroes of the past and not-so distant past. If you don’t already know these athletes, you should.
The Edmonton Grads
They’re the most successful team in Canadian history, winning an astounding 95 per cent of their matches.
From 1915 to 1940, the Edmonton Grads won 502 games and lost only 20, beating the world’s best teams from the United States and Europe.
When you have those kinds of stats, you can find yourself on a Google Doodle or in a Heritage Minute.
Though they went undefeated (27-0) through FOUR Olympic Games (1924-1936), there were no gold medals to show around their necks. Women’s basketball didn’t become an official Olympic sport until 1976.
As for just how good the Grads were, let’s leave the final word to Dr. James Naismith, who called them “the finest basketball team that ever stepped out on a floor.”
The Matchless Six
The 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, women were allowed to compete in track and field for the first time and the Canadian women headed straight to the podium.
You probably don’t know these names, but you should.
Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfeld was the premiere sprinter of the Games. She ran the anchor leg for Jane Bell, Ethel Smith and Myrtle Cook as Canada won gold in the inaugural 4×100-metre relay.
And that wasn’t the end of it. Canadian teammate Ethel Catherwood won gold in high jump.
In total, Canada’s women’s track and field team won two gold, two silver and a bronze and earned the nickname: The Matchless Six.
Their homecoming to Toronto was nuts. Hundreds of thousands came out to celebrate … and in 1950, Rosenfeld was named Canada’s female athlete of the first half of the century.
The Dufour-Lapointe sisters
One of the enduring memories of the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games was that of moguls gold medallist Justine Dufour-Lapointe standing on the top step of the podium, looking to her right and holding hands with her older sister Chloe, the silver medallist.
Together, they sang O Canada, tears of joy in their eyes, while nearby stood proud eldest sister Maxime, who finished 12th. They became just the third trio of sisters to compete in the same individual event at the Winter Games. A true family affair.
The Plouffe twins
Edmonton basketball stars Michelle and Katherine Plouffe captured gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games, in between representing Canada at back-to-back Olympic Games.
They were 19-year-old pups when they represented Canada in London 2012 and veterans when the team finished seventh in Rio 2016.
Had it not been for some bizarre and unfortunate Olympic qualifying rules and domestic standards, they would have competed at Tokyo 2020 in the debut of 3-on-3 basketball and been a medal favourite.
The Firth Sisters
From 1972 to 1984, Shirley and Sharon Firth went to four consecutive Winter Olympics, shaped the sport of cross-country skiing in the north and ignited a conversation around indigenous culture.
They were born 15 minutes apart to a traditional hunting and trapping family on the Mackenzie Delta, north of the Arctic Circle. When they were six, their whole community was up and moved to Inuvik.
They learned the sport from a French priest on borrowed skis from a U.S. Army base and eventually a small nordic team was formed. Between Shirley and Sharon, they won 48 Canadian championships. They made little Inuvik a hotbed of ski talent. By the Sapporo Olympics of 1972, seven of Canada’s nine nordic skiers were from the Mackenzie Delta.
It’s incredible how many setbacks the Firths endured – illness, the death of their mother – but they always kept fighting through.
For the Firths, it was beyond personal, they were acutely aware of representing their culture, too.
Sharon Firth said: “The world was so fascinated by us skinny indian girls and boys and how we danced on skis. Our focus was to represent aboriginal people on the world stage in sport and I think that’s what we did.”
Celebrate back-to-back Olympic champions
A lot can happen in four years. Let’s take an appreciation for how difficult it is to OWN your sport for back-to-back Olympics. Or, in the case of the Canadian women’s hockey team, back-to-back-to-back-to-back. A 16-year span of dominance! In this category, we zone in on individual sports.
Catriona Le May Doan
Le May Doan was the first female speed skater to break the 38-second barrier in the 500-metre event and is also the first Canadian to successfully defend a gold medal in the same event at an Olympics.
She did it in her 500-metre specialty at both the 1998 and 2002 Games. Canadians may remember the iconic image of her skating around the Salt Lake City Oval with a Canada flag in her hand and a black stetson on her head.
She’ll forever be known as the “fastest woman on ice.”
Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse
In the unpredictable world of bobsleigh, Humphries – the top driver in the world – was looking for every little edge to be the best.
Moyse – the best pusher in the world – was a team-sport star from PEI and member of the World Rugby Hall of Fame.
Together, they left trails of smoke on tracks from Vancouver to Sochi and just about everywhere around the globe. Gold at home in Vancouver 2010 and a repeat four years later in Russia.
In PyeongChang 2018, Humphries partnered with sprinter Phylicia George winning a bronze medal. Moyse chose to push for next-generation pilot, Alyssa Rissling.
That was then. Now, Humphries competes for the United States after an acrimonious split from the Canadian program. She intends to go for gold again with the Stars and Stripes at Beijing 2022.
MacLennan became the first Canadian athlete to defend their title at a Summer Olympic Games, following up her gold-medal performance from the 2012 London Olympic Games with another gold in Rio 2016.
MacLennan’s second gold was even more remarkable given her battle back from post-concussion syndrome in the lead-up to the Games. Quite eerily, MacLennan is coming back from another injury (a broken ankle) as she prepares to defend her Olympic crown a THIRD time, this time in Tokyo.
Honourable mentions: Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle
McBean, one of Canada’s most decorated Olympians, and Heddle captured the gold in the coxless pair at Barcelona 1992 and followed it up with gold in the double sculls at Atlanta 1996. Two different events. Same result – champions.
Celebrate Summer AND Winter Olympians
She’s the only athlete in history to win multiple medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. Her six career medals ties her with speed skating teammate Cindy Klassen as Canada’s most-decorated Olympian.
As a cyclist, Hughes competed at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta where she raced to bronze in both the road race and time trial.
She returned to her first love of speed skating in 2002, winning medals in three straight Winter Olympics. Her bronze in the 5,000 metres in Vancouver was epic. She retired after 2012 London Games after finishing fifth in the time trial.
Hughes is known for her athletic achievements as well as her humanitarian work. Whether it was donating to Right to Play or breaking down the stigma around mental illness in Bell’s “Let’s Talk” campaign, she’s a champion through and through.
Simmerling made history at Rio 2016 by becoming the first Canadian athlete to compete in three different sports in three different Olympic Games. In Brazil, she competed in track cycling where she collected her first-ever podium finish, a bronze in the team pursuit.
But she got her first Olympic start in Vancouver 2010 in alpine skiing. She moved on to ski cross in Sochi 2014 and was predicted to be in the medal hunt at PyeongChang 2018 until she broke both legs in a World Cup event just before the Games.
Let’s just say this three-time Olympian stars on tracks.
She became a dual-season Olympian at PyeongChang 2018 when she won bronze with Kaillie Humphries in bobsleigh.
At her first Olympics at London 2012, George made the 100 hurdles final, finishing sixth. Four years later, she made the hurdles final once again and helped the 4×100 relay team to sixth-place finish.
She’s got her eyes on a fourth Games in Tokyo this summer.
She’s regarded as the greatest women’s hockey player of all-time, but at one point, she traded in that hockey stick, helmet & shoulder pads for a bat, ball & glove.
Just before winning four consecutive Olympic gold medals in hockey, Wickenheiser starred for the softball team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. While growing up in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, she was quite the fastball player, representing Canada at the world junior championships at one point. Obviously the diamond took a back seat to the ice as she went on to the most prolific career in women’s hockey.
Overall, Wickenheiser’s played in six Olympic Games. She’s a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, the IIHF Hall of Fame and is currently the Assistant Director of Player Development for the Toronto Maple Leafs
With so many trailblazers in this country, this list could run off the page. Some that come to mind are Hockey Hall of Famer Angela James, the late freestyle skiing legend Sarah Burke, superb athlete and sports administrator Abby Hoffman and others. Here we profile the ultimate fighter for clean sport and a woman who changes the conversation around ability.
The moment she won Canada’s first-ever cross-country medal at an Olympic Games, Beckie Scott made history, but she could not have known how that achievement would forge the next part of her life.
She finished third in combined pursuit at those Salt Lake City Olympics, only to be upgraded to the Olympic gold after two Russians were caught doping.
Robbed of that Olympic moment, she formed a powerful voice in the boardroom.
She joined the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) athlete committee in 2005 and in 2012 was appointed to their executive committee. She never toed the line. Her fierce stance against drug cheats earned her respect from athletes worldwide, but also the ire of the suits in the room.
Scott resigned WADA’s compliance and review committee in 2018 over the reinstatement of Russia’s anti-doping agency.
She later stepped down as head of the WADA athlete’s committee, but not before making sure a charter of rights for athletes was approved for entry into the WADA archives.
Canada’s greatest wheelchair racer of all-time blazes trails wherever her career takes her – as an athlete, advocate or politician.
As an athlete, she won 21 medals at five Paralympic Games from 1992 to 2008, including 14 gold medals, and broke 26 world records along the way. She’s the only female Paralympian to win the Lou Marsh Award as the top athlete in Canada (2008).
She’s an advocate for persons with disabilities and has served as Canada’s chef de mission for the 2016 Rio Paralympic team and the 2014 Commonwealth Games team.
A member of the Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and Companion of the Order of Canada, she was appointed to the Senate in March 2016
Published at Sun, 08 Mar 2020 03:34:17 +0000