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Ethel Catherwood

FROM THE Footprints COLLECTION

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If the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics were important for the presence of women in the competitions, certainly the brightest light emanated from the six-woman Canadian track team, known as the Matchless Six. The team included Canada's "Saskatoon Lily," better known as Ethel Catherwood whom the New York Times dubbed as "the prettiest of all the girl athletes."

Catherwood was always more than just a pretty face, despite the media's fixation to the contrary. Born in Haldimand County, Ontario in 1909, but raised in Saskatchewan, Catherwood entered a competition in Saskatoon in 1926 and with little training equaled the Canadian record of 1.511 metres for the high jump. A week later, on Labour Day, the third-year high-school student went to Regina and broke the world record. Two years later, in Amsterdam, she would set a new world record of 1.60 metres.

At the Games, on the last day of competition, Catherwood faced 23 jumpers and cold weather. In this climate, to begin with, she didn't remove her sweat suit as she cleared the rising bar. When she finally missed at 1.52 metres, she did take it off, only to reveal that she had worn the suit in order to confuse her competition. Catherwood's suit was never for warmth and once she removed the extra weight her physical and psychological advantage helped her to prevail. On her next attempt, Catherwood soared lightly over the bar with characteristic ease to win the event. The gold medal she received at the closing ceremonies that day still remains the only individual gold medal won by a Canadian woman in an Olympic track and field event.

With her medal, Canada's women's team became the world's track and field champion. Surprisingly six women from a country whose population was less than 10 million bested 21 other countries and 120 competitors drawn from a population of 30 times that of Canada. Ironically, as the Globe and Mail reported on 8 August 1928, "Those opposing the retention of the women's events in the Olympics were headed by a country whose women athletes won the present Olympic's women's track and field meet — Canada." The six women who had practiced their baton passing on the boat on the way to Amsterdam were returning to Canada to face a hero's welcome when 2,000 Canadians anxiously awaited their return at Toronto's Union Station.

Ethel Catherwood of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. A Footprint in the landing area of Canadian sport.

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