Think of it. It was more than 80 years ago that women were first allowed to compete in track and field at an Olympic Games. Until Amsterdam in 1928, females were thought to be too “feeble” to run at speed and over long distances.
The men who controlled the International Olympic Committee even believed that taking part in running races could be hazardous to a woman’s health.
Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfeld and her Canadian teammates proved that to be a load of hogwash.
Rosenfeld won the silver medal in the 100 metres in Amsterdam and led off the 4x100m relay to claim gold in world record time. She was Canada’s female athlete of the first half of the twentieth century, and each year this country’s sportswoman of the year receives the “Bobbie” Rosenfeld Award.
She was a trailblazer to be sure.
At the same Olympics, Ethel Catherwood, “The Saskatoon Lilly”, won gold in the first high jump for women and the Canadian women’s track and field team easily outdistanced their rivals in scoring the most points at the inaugural Olympic meet.
Then there’s Barbara Ann Scott - some might say the world’s longest reigning monarch. She has been the Queen of Canadian figure skating since she won the only Olympic gold medal for a woman in this nation’s history.
The Ottawa native captured the crown in St. Moritz, Switzerland more than 60 years ago in 1948, and was lifted onto the shoulders of the victorious RCAF Flyers hockey team in an unforgettable photograph.
Last year in Calgary as I watched Scott receive the Canadian Olympic Order, it was phenomenal to witness her regal stature. She truly is a national treasure and revered by all people in this country who love sport.
Forty years ago at the Grenoble Olympics, Nancy Greene of Rossland B.C. won a gold medal in the giant slalom and added silver in the slalom. She was dubbed the “tiger of the slopes,” a two-time winner of the World Cup and the founder of one of the most successful youth racing programs in the world. Now Greene is a member of the Canadian Senate and she enjoys iconic status coast-to-coast-to-coast.
“As a little girl I would visit Nancy Greene’s home and have tea with her mom,” said another Canadian Olympic champion, downhill skier Kerrin Lee-Gartner.
“The visits were never about having tea but about me wanting to play dress up with Nancy’s medals and feel close to greatness. Without her knowing it, she gave me the deep seeded belief that I too could win the Olympics. That childhood dream became reality because I believed it could.”
Now, Lee-Gartner watches from the side of the hill as her own two daughters race to prominence in the Canadian west. “I feel so proud of them for dreaming, working hard, exposing themselves to success and failure and of course for enjoying it,” she said.
Finally, less than a year ago, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees sponsored by the United Church in Hazelton, B.C., secured Canada’s first gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. Carol Huynh triumphed in a sport that was long dominated by men – wrestling. But in climbing to the top of the podium she did a lot to lead Canada out of the doldrums at those Olympics.
As a matter of fact, Canadian women of sport have been leaders for quite some time. In our national obsession of hockey - they dominate. In soccer they have been to the World Cup and to the Olympics. In every sporting pursuit, women from this country have proven to be not only capable but also truly inspirational. More often than not, Canadian women take the majority of our country’s medals at the Olympic Games. They invariably bear the flag with grace and dignity.
So, as we observe International Women’s Day, let’s not forget the contributions that have been made on our country’s fields of play. Our female athletes have been the forerunners of an incredible story of sporting success.
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