The Matchless Six: The Story of Canada's First Women's Olympic Team
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It is July 1928, and Canada’s first women’s Olympic team — “The Matchless Six” — is heading to Amsterdam, the site of the ninth Olympiad of the modern era. Canada’s finest female track-and-field athletes, having survived rigorous training and the grueling selection process at the Olympic Trials, were determined to take their big talent and big dreams to the top. Meet Jane Bell, Myrtle Cook, Bobbie Rosenfeld, and Ethel Smith, the “Flying Four” who comprised Canada’s first relay team; Ethel Catherwood, the “Saskatoon Lily,” who became the champion high-jumper and the most photographed female athlete at the Olympic Games; and Jean Thompson, the youngest member of the team at seventeen, who became one of the world’s most outstanding middle-distance runners. It was an impressive achievement:
“A team of six from Canada, a country of less than ten million, competed against 121 athletes from 21 countries, whose total population was 300 million.” Impressive indeed.
For many years, historian Ron Hotchkiss has been fascinated by “The Matchless Six,” the conquering heroines who took Amsterdam by storm. His extensive research has led to this riveting account, full of black-and-white archival photographs, of the events leading up to and following that fateful summer in the history of Canadian sport.
athletic journey that would take her to the pinnacle of the sport four years later. The first thing one noticed about Ethel Catherwood were her striking good looks. These were complemented by her height: At 5 feet 10 1/2 inches, she was noticeable. When Toronto sportswriter Lou Marsh first saw her, he declared that she seemed more like a Charleston partner for the Prince of Wales, the future king, than she did an athlete. “One glance at Miss Ethel Catherwood, the star from Saskatoon,” he
parents’ behest to look after her younger sister and keep her company. They rented an apartment and began business college. Ethel started training indoors with Knox and was easily jumping 4 feet 10 inches. He expected to have her doing 5 feet 3, or 4, when the warm weather arrived and they were able to practise outdoors. To achieve this, he said, two things were necessary: consistent hard work on his part, and constant and painstaking efforts on hers to follow his instructions. As Toronto was
praised Bobbie’s attitude. “All through the training period and in the hours of competition she displayed a rare spirit,” Alex Gibb said, “that true competitive spirit which makes champions.” As the only individual winner of the women’s squad, Ethel Catherwood received her share of media attention. The COC contemplated striking a medallion with engravings of her and Percy Williams on one side, and the Maple Leaf on the other. Hollywood was interested, and Ethel had received an offer to appear in
the flat Dutch landscape of polders, dikes, and windmills. Each pondered the events of the past two and a half weeks. They knew something significant had happened in their lives, but, for now, it was impossible to assess the impact. Thoughts soon turned to family and friends in Canada. Chapter Ten Dr. Lamb’s Bombshell Olympic competition behind them, the Canadian women athletes were free to relax and enjoy the attractions of foreign capitals. In Brussels, they passed a pleasant
burst forth, shouting greetings and congratulations to the returning Olympians. The reception was so unexpected and the numbers so daunting that Ethel Catherwood drew back from the boat’s rail in alarm. But, pushed from behind by her teammates, she was soon smiling and waving in response. The girls, dressed in their Olympic uniforms, were easily spotted, illuminated by the lights from the harbor sheds. Many Torontonians had made the trip to Montreal and, as they recognized a member of the team,