Every day is a great day to celebrate the achievements, perseverance and advancements of Saskatchewan’s great women’s athletes. Their stories inspire us every day and need to be celebrated and shared every day.
However, today, on International Women’s Day, we want to share some stories of Saskatchewan athletes who represent this year’s theme of “breaking the bias”.
Saskatchewan’s first female Olympian was Saskatoon’s Ethel Catherwood. She was also part of a pioneering group of six track and field athletes who along with swimmer Dorothy Prior became Canada’s first female Olympians at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. Their participation remained a contentious topic of debate among Canadian organizers, but the track athletes more than proved their worth by winning four medals out of five events. Their success led to them being known as the “Matchless Six”. While four of the group won gold in the 4×100-metre relay, none shone brighter than Catherwood who won gold in the women’s high jump and became an overnight sensation.
Catherwood was also a national champion in the javelin, but that event would not be part of the Games until 1932. She also won gold medals in the high jump and javelin at the 1930 British Empire Games (now known as the Commonwealth Games) in Hamilton. Her strength, grace, and excellence helped sway public opinion about the abilities of female athletes.
The battle for equality on the world stage was not quickly won.
In 1964 gymnasts Gail (Daley) Bakker from Saskatoon and Irene (Haworth) Lacy from Nipawin both qualified for the Tokyo Olympics at the national championships. However, the Canadian Olympic Association decided to send three male gymnasts and no female gymnasts to the games due to budget constraints.
Canada sent 115 competitors to Tokyo and only 20 of them were women. Thanks to a letter-writing campaign from Bakker’s father and coach Chuck Sebestyen – and no small amount of fundraising and support from the people of Saskatoon – Bakker was able to secure enough funding to pay her own way to the Games.
Bakker earned a personal best score in Tokyo and scored 9s or higher in each event. While Lacy was not able to attend the Olympics, she and Bakker each had great careers and are both SSHF inductees. They both were part of Canada’s silver-medal winning team at the 1963 Pan American Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Lacy won a silver on the beam and Bakker earned a bronze in the same event.
The issue of funding remains and it is far from the only front female athletes are battling on.
The Canadian women’s national soccer team captured the country’s imagination by winning the gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Their feat was even more impressive considering that there isn’t a single professional women’s soccer team in Canada.
Kaylyn Kyle, an incoming SSHF inductee as a member of the 2021 class, played 101 times for Canada. The Saskatoon product has gone on to a successful broadcasting career becoming the first female broadcaster to call a game from Spain’s top league in North America.
She has used her platform as a broadcaster to be vocal in her belief that funding for women’s professional soccer in Canada is long past due and supporting women players in their fight for equality, social progress, and an inclusive atmosphere that allows all women to prosper.
From Chef de Mission Catriona Le May Doan leading Canada to a successful performance at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to Brittany Hudak and Lisa DeJong winning Paralympic medals hours apart, Saskatchewan women continue to write more great stories of athletic achievement.
There are countless other stories of amazing achievements and groundbreaking women from this province. We look forward to continuing to highlight more of them and sharing their stories.