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Matchless Six


There was a great deal at stake for the six Canadian women who competed in track and field events at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. Together, Florence Jane Bell, Ethel Catherwood, Myrtle Cook , Fanny "Bobbie" Rosenfeld, Ethel Smith and Jean Thompson were pioneering uncharted territory for female athletes, as 1928 marked the first time women's track and field events were included on the Olympic program. Marginalized by sexist assumptions that women inherently lacked the stamina and strength required to compete in Olympic-calibre athletics, their participation remained a contentious topic of debate among Canadian organizers.

Fearlessly pulling together to overcome adversity, the first Canadian Women's Olympic Track and Field Team owned the podium in 1928, and were quickly dubbed the 'Matchless Six' for their unprecedented achievements. Bobbie Rosenfeld and Ethel Smith stepped up to capture silver and bronze respectively for Canada in the 100m race. Rosenfeld and Smith along with Florence Jane Bell and Myrtle Cook won gold in record time in the 4x100m women's relay race. In the high jump competition, Ethel Catherwood captured the only individual gold medal ever won by a Canadian woman in Olympic track and field.

Overall, the Matchless Six won four medals and took first place in unofficial points standings in women's track and field events at the 1928 Olympic Games, Honoured as national heroes, they were greeted by exuberant crowds who flooded the streets of Toronto and Montreal upon returning to Canada. Defining success as a shared endeavour, they achieved more together than a single victor standing alone atop the podium could have done for women in sport, setting an impressive precedent that proved female athletes deserved opportunities to excel in track and field at the Olympic level.

photograph of Bobbie Rosenfeld with trophies
Fanny "Bobbie" Rosenfeld excelled at many sports, including track & field, basketball, ice hockey, softball and tennis. She was a strong advocate for women's sport through her coaching, service as a sport administrator and as a writer for the Globe and Mail. Respected for her sportsmanship she was named Canada's Female Athlete of the First Half-Century (1900-1950). The Bobbie Rosenfeld Award, named in her honour, is awarded annually to Canada's top female athlete of the year.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

photograph of 1928 women's Olympic team on board a ship
Women competed in track and field for the first time at the 1928 Olympic Games. The Canadian Women's Olympic team that year included six track athletes and one swimmer. Seen here on board the ship heading to Amsterdam, with team manager Alexandrine Gibb, the track team dubbed "The Matchless Six" went on to excel at the Olympic Games and were the top female team with four Olympic medals. They brought international recognition to Canada and were pioneers in promoting women's sport.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

photograph of Ethel Catherwood competing in high jump
Ethel Catherwood won Canada's first gold medal at a field event when she won the running high jump with a height of 1.59m. Known as the 'Saskatoon Lily' she went on to win gold in the high jump and javelin at the 1930 British Empire Games in Hamilton. There had been public disapproval of women competing at track and field events and her grace and excellence helped to break down this gender barrier.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

photograph of Bobbie Rosenfeld and Ethel Smith at finish line in race
Two members of the track team who competed in the 100 yard (91m) dash were Ethel Smith, (far left) and Bobbie Rosenfeld (second from left). Ethel Smith's story is one of perseverance and courage. She had to quit school at age 14 in order to work and help support her family. She trained and competed outside of her work and came home from the Olympic Games with two medals, the bronze in the 100m and the gold in the relay.
Collection: Library and Archives Canada

photograph of women's relay team 1928
The women's relay team included (left to right) Jane Bell, Myrtle Cook, Ethel Smith and Bobbie Rosenfeld. Not only did each member excel at track and field, they all played diverse sports. After they retired from athletics they each continued to encourage and promote women's sport through coaching, writing and sport administration.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

signed wood relay baton
This baton is typical on the one they would have used, made of a light-weight wood. It is signed by several athletes, including Myrtle Cook. Although the members of the relay team knew each other, they had only competed against each other and not as a team. They used the time on board ship to train in passing the baton, a key element in any relay. Their integrity as a team helped them to win the gold medal.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

gold medal with image of Victory and Amsterdam 1928
This is the gold medal won by Myrtle Cook. The standard design for the Olympic medal began in 1928. The front side showed Nike (Victory) holding a winner's crown and palm with the Colosseum in the background. The name of the Olympic host and Games numeral, IX Olympiade Amsterdam 1928, is in the top right. The reverse features a crowd of people carrying an athlete. This design was used for 40 years until 1972 when a different design was used for the reverse side.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

printed diploma for Myrtle Cook Women's Relay 1928
Every Olympic athlete is awarded a diploma for the top eight places. Myrtle Cook's diploma from 1928 features a kneeling woman, with her name, place and event. Myrtle continued her athletic career after the Olympic Games and in 1929 began a journalistic career as a sport writer and columnist for the Montreal Star, using this platform to promote the advancement for women's sport.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

women's black leather track shoes
Myrtle Cook's track shoes are very different from the custom made shoe of today, consisting of a soft leather shoe with metal spikes. During her career Myrtle helped to found athletic clubs in Toronto and Montreal and she took part in eleven Olympic Games as an athlete, trainer, manager and journalist. Her leadership on both the national and international scene encouraged athletes in sport.
Collection: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

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