Sports·Year In Review

The most memorable Canadian sports moments of 2021

From Canada soccer's impact, to Fernandez's remarkable run to the U.S. Open final, here are the 10 most memorable Canadian sports moments of 2021.

From soccer pitch to Tokyo track, it was a noteworthy year for Canada's athletes

From Canada soccer's impact, to Fernandez's remarkable run to the U.S. Open final, here are the 10 most memorable Canadian sports moments that defined the year. (CBC Sports)

One mission accomplished — the next is within reach. 

Canada's emergence as a full-fledged soccer nation in 2021 began with the Canadian women — who "changed the colour" of the medal to gold at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

After back-to-back bronze medals in 2012 and 2016, the Canadian women's soccer team moved up two spots on the podium and became Olympic champions. 

The Canadian men are on the verge of their first World Cup berth since 1986. With eight matches played and six to go, Canada's CONCACAF World Cup qualifying campaign has already delivered two marquee events on home soil.

Canadian tennis star Leylah Fernandez developed as the fan favourite in New York en route to the U.S. Open final.

Although the 19-year-old left-hander from Laval, Que., was defeated by fellow teenager (and Toronto-born) Emma Raducanu 6-4, 6-3, Fernandez delivered a touching post-match tribute to 'resilient' New York City on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

From Canada soccer's impact to Fernandez's remarkable run to the U.S. Open final, here are the 10 most memorable Canadian sports moments that defined the year.

Canada soccer's Labbé, Quinn inspire 

At Tokyo 2020, goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé helped Canada to penalty shootout wins over Brazil in the quarter-finals and Sweden in the gold-medal game. 

Shortly after Canada's Olympic victory celebration, the 35-year-old from Stony Plain, Alta., (unofficially) became the new National Minister of Defence.

A change to the Canadian keeper's position was made on Wikipedia and drew the attention of Harjit Sajjan — who held the position during the Games. 

In September, Labbé opened up again about her mental health struggles and revealed she could not train for part of the Olympics because of 'high levels of anxiety and multiple panic attacks.'

Before the final kicked off, Canadian midfielder Quinn had already made Olympic history. 

WATCH | Canada stuns Sweden to capture gold:

Alphonso Davies' spectacular goal leads Canada past Panama in CONCACAF World Cup qualifier

9 months ago
Duration 1:48
Forward Alphonso Davies scores with an incredible individual effort as Canada defeats Panama 4-1 in their CONCACAF World Cup qualifying match.

The 25-year-old from Toronto would become the first openly transgender and non-binary athlete to win an Olympic medal when the Canadian team defeated their long-time rivals and reigning World Champions, the United States in the semifinals.

Quinn came out publicly as transgender in September 2020, changed their pronouns to they/them and now goes by one name.

Canadian men produce signature events

Through eight games in the final round of World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF region, Canada is top of the table.

And unbeaten.

In their last match on Nov. 16, the Canadian men earned a 2-1 landmark victory over regional powerhouse Mexico on the frozen tundra of the "Estadio Iceteca" (aka Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium), which vaulted Canada into first place.

After Cyle Larin's eventual match-winner — his second goal of the contest — Canadian defender Sam Adekugbe flung himself into a snowbank during the celebrations.

Adekugbe's celebratory reaction went viral. 

On the field, Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies continues to impress for Canada. 

In front of Toronto's BMO field at full capacity, Davies' remarkable goal against Panama helped the men's team claim a crucial 4-1 victory.

WATCH | Davies' unassisted gem inspires Canada past Panama:

Leylah Fernandez, father join CBC Sports to discuss her breakout year

7 months ago
Duration 14:19
Canadian tennis star Leylah Fernandez along with her father and coach Jorge Fernandez join CBC Sports’ Vivek Jacob to look back on the year that was, discuss their relationship on and off the court and look ahead to the 2022 tennis season.

The stunning solo effort got the attention of Canadian global star Drake.

Tickets for Canada's next World Cup qualifier home game, against the United States, sold out before the public sale.

The match is expected to take place at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ont., on Jan. 30.

Fernandez delivers touching speech

Leylah Fernandez arrived at Flushing Meadows for the U.S. Open ranked No. 73 in the world.

What followed was a remarkable run that saw the Canadian teenager defeat top-five seeds Aryna Sabalenka, Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina and four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka before falling to Raducanu in the final.

In her post-match interview, Fernandez addressed the crowd inside Arthur Ashe Stadium with a touching tribute.

"I know on this day it was especially hard for New York and everyone around the United States," Fernandez said. "I just want to say that I hope I can be as strong and as resilient as New York has been the past 20 years."

WATCH | Leylah Fernandez, father join CBC Sports to discuss her breakout year:

Canadian boxer Bujold says 'sky is the limit for all women' after winning legal bout with IOC

1 year ago
Duration 5:40
Watch boxer Mandy Bujold of Kitchener, Ont., read her statement after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that Olympic qualification criteria must include an accommodation for women who were pregnant or postpartum during the qualification period, paving the way for Bujold to compete at the Tokyo Olympics.

Already a fan-favourite through her gritty play, determination and underdog status throughout the event, the New York crowd gave Canada's newest tennis superstar a loud ovation.

The post-match acknowledgement from Fernandez drew praise across social media, including from former world No. 1 Andy Roddick.

Following her breakout season, the Laval, Que., teen now has her sights set on a top-10 spot in the world rankings, as well as Grand Slam and WTA titles alongside her coach and father Jorge Fernandez.

Canada's athlete of the year dominates in Tokyo

Damian Warner became Canada's first Olympic champion in the decathlon and surpassed the 9,000-point mark, an Olympic record.

On the strength of his historic performance, Canadian media awarded the London, Ont., native with the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's athlete of the year.

In a display of extraordinary athleticism, Warner became just the fourth decathlete to break 9,000 points and delivered one of the greatest performances in the history of his sport.

WATCH | Damian Warner becomes 1st Canadian Olympic champion in decathlon: 

Basketball player Kim Gaucher and boxer Mandy Bujold to compete in Tokyo Olympics

1 year ago
Duration 2:05
Two female Canadian athletes have won their battles to be allowed to compete in the Tokyo Olympics. Star boxer Mandy Bujold and basketball player Kim Gaucher are both young mothers who had been prevented from going for that reason.

Oleksiak swims to Canadian Olympic history

At Tokyo 2020, Penny Oleksiak became the most-decorated Canadian Olympian of all time.

Canadian women captured 18 of Canada's 24 medals at the Games, with Oleksiak contributing three to that tally.

WATCH | Oleksiak becomes most-decorated Canadian Olympian:

At Rio 2016, the Toronto native captured four medals, including gold, as a 16-year-old. Five years later, with bronze in the 4x100-metre medley, Oleksiak passed Canadian greats Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen with her record-setting seventh Olympic medal.

The Canadian swim star was quick to give credit to her relay teammates Maggie Mac Neil, Kylie Masse and Sydney Pickrem with a tweet in reference to her favourite artist, Drake.

De Grasse earns gold, goes 3-for-3 at Olympics again 

With Oleksiak at the top, Canadian track and field star Andre De Grasse isn't far behind.

In his Olympic debut at Rio 2016, De Grasse raced to three medals, which included silver in the 200m.

Five years later — in the same event with his trademark strong finish — the Markham, Ont., native became Olympic champion for the first time.

De Grasse, the first Canadian to win gold in the 200m since Percy Williams in 1928, clocked in with a national-record time of 19.62 seconds.

The 27-year-old also took bronze in the marquee event, the 100m, and lifted the Canadian team to bronze in the 4x100 with a phenomenal anchor leg.

De Grasse has won a medal in every Olympic and world championship event final he's competed in.

WATCH | Andre De Grasse blazes to Olympic gold in the 200m: 

Paralympic star Rivard overcomes 'failed' start in Tokyo

Aurélie Rivard captured Canada's 1st gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympics.

However, it was her first race, the women's S10 50m freestyle, that left her feeling unsatisfied.

As the defending Paralympic champion, the 25-year-old from Saint-Jean-sur-Richeileu, Que., claimed bronze.

"I didn't have a bronze medal in my collection, and I didn't really want one. I didn't have a good race," she said.

Hungry for gold, Rivard would repeat as champion in the S10 100m freestyle in a remarkable time of 58.14 seconds — to break the world record for the second time that day.

Rivard would go on to win three more medals, including gold in the 400m freestyle S10, setting another world record in that event.

WATCH | Canada's Aurélie Rivard has world record-setting swim for gold:

Bujold, Gaucher fight for gender equality

Two female Canadian athletes won their battles to be allowed to compete in the Tokyo Olympics.

Both are mothers, who had been prevented from going for that reason.

Boxer Mandy Bujold was originally ruled ineligible for Tokyo 2020 because she was pregnant and postpartum with her daughter, Kate Olympia, in 2018 and 2019.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) used that two-year time period to determine qualification for the Games after the pandemic wiped out the 2020 competitive year.

After weeks filled with legal battles, the 34-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., was ruled eligible to box at the Tokyo Olympics by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

WATCH | Mandy Bujold strikes blow for Olympic gender equality:

Less than two months from the opening ceremonies in Tokyo, basketball player Kim Gaucher was forced to make an emotional plea via Instagram, saying the IOC was forcing her to make a tough choice: skip the Olympics, or spend 28 days in Tokyo without her daughter, who she was breastfeeding.

A few weeks later, the 37-year-old from Mission, B.C., received good news — baby Sophie was going to Tokyo after all.

WATCH | Gaucher, Bujold allowed to compete at Olympics:

Mac Neil's priceless reaction to gold

Maggie Mac Neil had just won Canada's first gold medal of Tokyo 2020, but in her Olympic debut, the 21-year-old native of London, Ont., looked surprised.

After touching the wall, Mac Neil looked up at the scoreboard and squinted — then realized her name topped the list of swimmers competing in the women's 100m butterfly final.

Mac Neil's meme-worthy reaction was due to the fact she's near-sighted and doesn't wear contacts or prescription goggles in the pool.

She would leave Tokyo with three medals — one of each colour — and contributed to Canada's continued swim success with the relay teams.

WATCH | Mac Neil swims to Canada's 1st gold of Tokyo Games:

Stewart, Lakatos form bond in Tokyo

In the middle of his shot put final at Japan's National Stadium, Greg Stewart's focus shifted away from the competition.

The 35-year-old, who stands at 7-foot-2, would encourage Canadian teammate and wheelchair racer Brent Lakatos around the track.

Stewart completed a Paralympic record-setting toss of 16.75 metres in the first round of throws in the men's F46 shot put.

The Kamloops, B.C., native would then capture Canada's second gold medal of the Tokyo Paralympics.

Lakatos, of Dorval, Que., would later go on to win silver men's T53 100m final, finishing with a time of 14.55 seconds following the support of his Tokyo roommate.

With four medals in six events, the 41-year-old formed a special bond with Stewart while in Japan.

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