The Olympics can be a topic of controversy, a source of national pride, and the cause of huge financial strain for host countries. But this year at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Canada got to celebrate the phenomenal successes of female athletes and inspire women and girls across the country.
Out of the total 24 medals won by Canada, 18 of those were won by athletes who identify as female.
Penny Oleksiak became Canada’s most decorated Olympian. Jessica Klimkait and Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard became Canada’s first women to win medals in judo. Maude Charron lifted more than twice her body weight to win a gold medal. The Canadian softball team pitched their way to bronze. And of course, the Canadian soccer team defeated Sweden to win a historic gold medal.
“I think it’s awesome [to see women excel in the Olympics,] especially because they’re just a side show for a lot of [the time],” says Monica Dickson, a goalkeeper for the Concordia Women’s Soccer team.
Kira Lauder, who is also a goalkeeper for the soccer team, has been playing soccer for 13 years. “You don’t get to see much of [women’s sports] outside of the Olympics,” says Lauder, “and I think being able to watch all these different sports in the Olympics and seeing Canadian women do so well in them will definitely encourage other people to take up these sports.”
Amy Van Brabant, who plays forward for Concordia Women’s Basketball team, says, “It was huge [seeing the success of women in the Olympics.] I think it was really awesome and inspirational for women to see those amazing athletes go out and do their thing and to know that we can do that and to have some representation in the sport.”
“For me as a kid, watching the Olympics was huge,” Van Brabant continues. “Seeing athletes who are women going out there and representing their country is so inspirational.”
Coaches are also thrilled. “It’s something that hits you differently if it’s women in a sport that you’ve played,” says Leah Sartison, assistant coach for Concordia Women’s Soccer team. On the morning of Canada’s gold medal soccer win, Sartison found herself on the toilet, bawling out of sheer joy.
“You develop… an attachment with these women who are in sport,” she continues. Sartison met Christine Sinclair when she was 15 and played soccer with Kelsey Mitchell. “You share part of the success with them, and it’s so much more fun that way.”
Franco Imbrogno, head coach of the Women’s Soccer team at Concordia says, “I think it’s great! I like how sports in Canada [are starting] to be represented by both genders.”
“Just the fact that we have so many female athletes representing our nation is pretty incredible,” says Robbie Valpreda, head coach of the Women’s Basketball team at Concordia University.” Sixty per cent of Canada’s competing 2020 Olympians identify as female.
“We’re going to see more and more female athletes contribute and partake in sports whether it’s local amateur or a professional Olympic level,” continues Valpreda.
But while female athletes are starting to get the recognition they deserve, there’s still a long way to go.
Dickson has been playing soccer for nine years and has experienced her fair share of obstacles. “A lot of the men get scouted to go play for the Whitecaps [a Vancouver soccer team] and [for] women… you actually have to reach out yourself, whereas… they just kind of flock to the guys,” Dickson says.
Van Brabant has also experienced some challenges as a female athlete in basketball. “I grew up in a small town, so opportunities to go out and play at the next level for college basketball weren’t really available,” she says, “especially for women.”
After the Tokyo Olympics, it is evident that female athletes are a driving force behind Canada’s athletic success, and it is only right that the recognition and respect they received during the games continues.