Field of Play: The wonderful world of women in sport | Sports | CBC Sports

Field of Play: The wonderful world of women in sport

Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012 | 03:04 PM

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Bobsleigh pilot Kaillie Humphries, right, and brakewoman Chelsea Valios have been flexing their muscles on the World Cup circuit. (George Frey/Getty Images) Bobsleigh pilot Kaillie Humphries, right, and brakewoman Chelsea Valios have been flexing their muscles on the World Cup circuit. (George Frey/Getty Images)

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Any way you look at it, Canadian women have dominated sports headlines in this country this year.

And in an arena where the "old boys" are usually at the forefront to the exclusion of what the girls do, that's encouraging news indeed.
Any way you look at it, Canadian women have dominated sports headlines in this country this year.

And in an arena where the "old boys" are usually at the forefront to the exclusion of what the girls do, that's encouraging news indeed.

Just think of it, Rosie MacLennan won the only Canadian gold medal at the Olympics in London and she was the only one who performed to the peak of her ability at the appointed hour.

Christine Nesbitt is the most consistent speedskater on the planet, male or female, and she is having another incredible season. Nesbitt has won six World Cup medals already, including four gold, and one wonders what she'll have to do to bear serious consideration as our premier athlete.

Kaillie Humphries is absolutely killing it on the World Cup bobsleigh circuit.  Including the World championship won last season in Lake Placid, she has scored eight international wins in a row. That is an unprecedented run of success in the annals of bobsleigh competition.

And Humphries understands that her achievements have a power beyond the tracks she races on. They are making aspiring athletes take notice.

"I have a voice now," Humphries said from her home in Calgary where she is enjoying a brief holiday break. "I want to use it in a positive way for young people who want to get involved in sport."

She points to the late Sarah Burke, who revolutionized freestyle skiing, and Lindsey Vonn, who is leading the charge on the alpine front, as being shining examples of what is possible for women in sport in general.

"They both have, at times, pushed the boundaries and that is inspirational to me." Humphries said.  "And if those two women can do it, then so can I."

She pointedly said that one of her priorities is to be an advocate for a four-person women's bobsleigh competition in the Olympics in the near future (currently there is only a two-person event for women).

"I think it will bring our sport into the proper spotlight," Humphries said. "It may not happen in my competitive lifespan but I will push for it hard."

And so she should. It's because women have every right to look forward to gender equity on the international stage of sport.

Outstanding role models

At the Olympics in London only two traditional Canadian teams made the cut.

The feisty women's basketball team under the guidance of revered coach Allison McNeill made it all the way to the quarter-finals  and very nearly further.

Meantime, it was the national women's soccer team that produced a bronze medal, the first by a Canadian team at a summer Olympics since the men's basketball squad took silver way back in 1936 in Berlin.

More importantly, the Canadian soccer women captured the country's imagination with their exploits and fashioned an iconic and lasting sporting moment for the national folklore.

The team's captain and superstar Christine Sinclair is the hands-down choice as Canada's athlete of the year. She ran the table of all the year-end awards.

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All of these female athletes are outstanding role models for young women who are thinking about playing sport, and it is truly significant that in an accepting country like Canada they have garnered the lion's share of the headlines this year.

"We're quite happy as a Canadian public to accept and celebrate women doing well in sport and that's a great first step," said Karin Lofstrom, the Executive Director of CAAWS, (Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity).

But Lofstrom went on to point out that the current role models are sorely needed because the fact remains girls tend to drop out of competitive sport at an earlier age than boys do in this country.

That, it seems to me, is a real shame because this year Canadian women created something to be truly proud of and the hope would be that its effect would be lasting.

"Let's continue to ride the wave so that it's not only at Olympic time that we notice women doing well but throughout the seasons of sport," Lofstrom urged.  "And then take the next step which is to elevate more women into coaching and managerial roles where their influence can resonate."

It was, without question, a wonderful year for women in Canadian sport. In every way, this last 12-month period proved that females deserve to be celebrated by all the fans and on every field of play.

This Saturday on Sports Weekend

This week, Sports Weekend features alpine and cross-country skiing beginning at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Leading off is the women's slalom from Are, Sweden, where Slovenian star Tina Maze continues to chase the overall World Cup title. Scott Oake and Olympic champion Kerrin Lee-Gartner have the call.

That's followed by the skiathlon for men and women at Canmore, Alta. Steve Armitage and Jack Sasseville have play-by-play while Andi Petrillo works the mixed zone and gets reaction from skiers.

The men's slalom from Madonna di Campiglio is our last event of the day but we'll also include a Big Picture feature on the amazing Kaillie Humphries of Calgary, who has fashioned international bobsleigh history with her eight consecutive international wins.

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