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Historic Olympic achievements by Team Canada women

In 2024, Team Canada will mark 100 years since women first represented the country at the Olympic Games.

Over that century, women have become crucial to Team Canada’s Olympic success.

At the last three Olympic Summer Games (London 2012, Rio 2016, Tokyo 2020), Team Canada has been composed of more athletes who identify as women (or compete in women’s events) than athletes who identify as men (or compete in men’s events).

The medal haul in summer sports has also recently skewed towards women’s events. At Tokyo 2020, 75 percent of Canada’s medals (18 of 24) were won in women’s events. At Rio 2016, it was 16 of 22 medals that were won in women’s events. 

Though the Winter Olympic program is not yet gender balanced, Team Canada has gotten closer to parity in team composition. At Beijing 2022, Team Canada included 106 athletes who identified as women or competed in women’s events, the most ever for the country at an Olympic Winter Games.

Of course, you can’t celebrate the present without acknowledging the past. So, let’s take a trip back through time to remember women who made historic Olympic breakthroughs for Canada.

1924: Cecil Smith became Canada’s first female Olympian. At 15 years old, she competed in two figure skating events in Chamonix, placing sixth in women’s singles and seventh in pairs with partner Melville Rogers

1928: Six track and field athletes along with one swimmer became Canada’s first female Summer Olympians in Amsterdam. Dorothy Prior competed in the 200m breaststroke in the pool but keep reading for more on the incredible exploits of the “Matchless Six” in athletics.

Black and white image of four Canadian track and field athletes in 1928
(From left to right) Jane Bell, Myrtle Cook, Ethel Smith and Bobbie Rosenfeld at Amsterdam 1928

1928: Bobbie Rosenfeld, Ethel Smith, Myrtle Cook, Jane Bell, and Ethel Catherwood became Canada’s first ever female Olympic medallists in Amsterdam. It started with Rosenfeld and Smith winning silver and bronze, respectively, in the women’s 100m. They would later join forces with Cook and Bell to win gold in the women’s 4x100m relay. On that same day, Catherwood – nicknamed the “Saskatoon Lily” – won the women’s high jump. The final member of the “Matchless Six”, Jenny Thompson, placed fourth in the 800m.

1948: Canadian women stood on the podium at the Olympic Winter Games for the first time. Barbara Ann Scott won gold in women’s figure skating in St. Moritz to become Canada’s first Winter Olympic champion in an individual event. A day later, Suzanne Morrow wins bronze in pairs figure skating with partner Wallace Diestelmeyer.

1976: Sue Holloway became the first Canadian woman to compete at the winter and summer Olympic Games in the same year. After competing in cross-country skiing in Innsbruck, she competed in canoe/kayak sprint that summer in Montreal.

1988: Carol Anne Letheren became the first woman to serve as Team Canada’s Chef de Mission at the Olympic Games, taking on the role of team leader in Seoul.

Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle show their gold medals
Canada’s Marnie McBean (L) and Kathleen Heddle, gold medal winners in the women’s double sculls event at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. (CP PHOTO/COC/Mike Ridewood)

1996: Rowers Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle became the first Canadian athletes to win three career Olympic gold medals. They added double sculls gold in Atlanta to their victories in the pair and eight at Barcelona 1992. No other Canadian summer sport athletes have won three Olympic gold medals.

2002: Catriona Le May Doan became the first Canadian athlete to successfully defend an individual Olympic gold medal, winning the 500m in long track speed skating for the second straight Winter Games.

2006: Cindy Klassen won five medals in long track speed skating in Turin. She was the first woman to win five speed skating medals at one Olympic Winter Games. She set the record for most medals won by a Canadian athlete at a single Olympic Games. 

2006: Clara Hughes won gold and silver in long track speed skating in Turin. Combined with her two bronze medals in road cycling at Atlanta 1996, she became the first athlete to win multiple medals at both the summer and winter Olympic Games.

  • Photo du COC : Mike Ridewood
  • Clara Hughes

2014: Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford, and Caroline Ouellette became the first Canadian athletes to win four career Olympic gold medals. They were members of the Canadian women’s hockey teams that won four straight Olympic tournaments.

2016: Trampolinist Rosie MacLennan became the first Canadian athlete to successfully defend a gold medal at the Olympic Summer Games and the first Canadian woman to win two gold medals in an individual event at the Olympic Summer Games.

2021: Penny Oleksiak won three medals in swimming at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Combined with her four medals won at Rio 2016 (the most ever by a Canadian athlete at one Summer Games), she became Canada’s all-time most decorated Olympian.