The most memorable Canadian sports moments of 2021
From soccer pitch to Tokyo track, it was a noteworthy year for Canada's athletes
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.
- CBC SPORTS IN TOKYOCanadian women's soccer team delivers thrilling Olympic gold-medal victory over Sweden
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.
From one MND to another, thank you for defending the flag and for helping bring home this long awaited gold🥇to Canada!<br><br>So proud of all of you! <br> 🇨🇦🇨🇦🇨🇦 <a href="https://t.co/WAqyLWShPe">https://t.co/WAqyLWShPe</a>—@HarjitSajjan
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:
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.
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.
Canada's Sam Adekugbe really dived into the snow after Cyle Larin got his brace 🤣<br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/CBSSportsGolazo?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CBSSportsGolazo</a>) <a href="https://t.co/1fifNSu1Tx">pic.twitter.com/1fifNSu1Tx</a>—@brfootball
It had to be done. <a href="https://t.co/kxrmJAldBx">pic.twitter.com/kxrmJAldBx</a>—@cbcsports
Things you love to see…score a goal (or 2) against Mexico…celebrate by jumping into a snow bank. <a href="https://twitter.com/CanadaSoccerEN?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CanadaSoccerEN</a> ⛄️ ⚽️ 🇨🇦—@sincy12
This is the most Canadian goal celebration 😂❤️🇨🇦❄️ <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CANMNT?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CANMNT</a> <a href="https://t.co/9ibZM3c5Ur">pic.twitter.com/9ibZM3c5Ur</a>—@farhanmohamed
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:
The stunning solo effort got the attention of Canadian global star Drake.
Herdman on Davies: He just got a text from <a href="https://twitter.com/Drake?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Drake</a>. Drake wants to meet the boys. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/OVO?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#OVO</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ForCanada?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ForCanada</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CANMNT?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CANMNT</a>—@CanadaSoccerEN
Drake showed his support last night for <a href="https://twitter.com/CanadaSoccerEN?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CanadaSoccerEN</a> by reaching out to Alphonso Davies to meet the team after Canada's win 🇨🇦🙌<br><br>(via IG/champagnepapi, tajonbuchanan, liammillar11, alphonsodavies) <a href="https://t.co/J7MUPWStzA">pic.twitter.com/J7MUPWStzA</a>—@FOXSoccer
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.
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:
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.
New York strong ❤️<a href="https://twitter.com/leylahfernandez?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@leylahfernandez</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/USOpen?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#USOpen</a> <a href="https://t.co/zaxR0igpxI">pic.twitter.com/zaxR0igpxI</a>—@usopen
Leylah asking for the mic back to acknowledge 9/11 was one of the classiest, most empathetic, and mature things I’ve ever seen in a post game moment ……… and she’s only 19. I’m blown away—@andyroddick
For someone who was not even born on 9/11, from another country, to have the grace to honor our great city in such a moment is inspiring. New York honors you tonight <a href="https://twitter.com/leylahfernandez?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@leylahfernandez</a>. Thank you. <a href="https://t.co/0BFoowS86w">https://t.co/0BFoowS86w</a>—@ericadamsfornyc
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:
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.
Trust me at the top it isn’t lonely—@OleksiakPenny
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.
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.
Watching Andre winning Gold.<br>Welcome to the club!!!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/champions?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#champions</a> 🥇 <a href="https://t.co/QEDSS2qhRY">pic.twitter.com/QEDSS2qhRY</a>—@donovanbailey
STATEMENT - Markham proclaims August 4th 2021 as Andre De Grasse Day in honour of our Olympic champion.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeAreMarkham?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WeAreMarkham</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CBCOlympics?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CBCOlympics</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/De6rasse?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@De6rasse</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/TeamCanada?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TeamCanada</a> <a href="https://t.co/sJQRKHnNnv">pic.twitter.com/sJQRKHnNnv</a>—@frankscarpitti
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.
"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.
- CBC SPORTS IN TOKYOBoxer Mandy Bujold's Olympic fight comes to quick end after legal battle to reach Tokyo
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.
The replay of Maggie Mac Neil squinting before realizing she won gold — because she doesn't wear contacts when she swims — makes me laugh every time I see it <a href="https://t.co/vyYFSHam3C">pic.twitter.com/vyYFSHam3C</a>—@btaplatt
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.
One Canadian Paralympic champ cheering on another 👏<br><br>Greg Stewart made sure <a href="https://twitter.com/BrentLak?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BrentLak</a> could feel the support during his 100m T53 heat 🇨🇦 <a href="https://t.co/CZvEKlAk2X">pic.twitter.com/CZvEKlAk2X</a>—@cbcsports
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.
With four medals in six events, the 41-year-old formed a special bond with Stewart while in Japan.
Day 8 was a good day :) <a href="https://t.co/LCkVrcIXcm">pic.twitter.com/LCkVrcIXcm</a>—@BrentLak