Fe­male ath­letes who rep­re­sented Canada at the Olympic Games

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - News - PAUL LUNGEN plun­gen@thecjn.ca

There used to be a joke – a bad one at that – about the world’s thinnest book: the one about great Jewish ath­letes.

Not only have there been plenty of elite Jewish ath­letes in all kinds of sports, a good num­ber of them have been women, in­clud­ing some right here in Canada.

At the top of any­one’s list – and I’m sure you’re mak­ing one of your own right now – has to be Fanny (Bob­bie) Rosen­feld, whose list of ac­com­plish­ments is lengthy and could fill a book on its own.

Rosen­feld was in her ath­letic hey­day in the 1920s and ’30s, at a time when women didn’t gen­er­ally go in for those sort of ac­tiv­i­ties. As her niece, Rochelle Thomp­son, ex­plained to The CJN, she had to com­pete wear­ing her brother’s swim shorts and her fa­ther’s socks.

Track events were only in­tro­duced in the Olympic Games in 1928 and Rosen­feld was right there in Am­s­ter­dam as a mem­ber of Canada’s “Match­less Six” fe­male team. She com­peted in the dis­cus throw, ran in the 100-me­tre race and came within a whisker of win­ning the gold medal. She went on to earn gold in the 4x100-me­tre re­lay.

Rosen­feld was a nat­u­ral, a multi-sport ath­lete who ex­celled not just in track and field, but in hockey, golf, tennis, bas­ket­ball and base­ball, as well.

In April, the City of Toronto named her to its Hall of Hon­our as a sport­ing leg­end and she has been a long­stand­ing mem­ber of the In­ter­na­tional Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Ne­tanya, Is­rael.

Here’s how the City of Toronto de­scribed Rosen­feld’s sport­ing prow­ess: “Dur­ing the course of a sin­gle day at the On­tario Ladies Track and Field cham­pi­onships in 1925, she placed first in dis­cus, shot put, 200-me­tres, low hur­dles and long jump, as well as sec­ond in javelin and 100-yard dash.” Not a bad day’s work. The Cana­dian Sports Hall of Fame noted that in 1923, Rosen­feld beat Cana­dian cham­pion Rosa Grosse in the 100-yard dash, as well as world cham­pion He­len Filkey.

A year later, she won the Toronto grass­courts tennis cham­pi­onship and in 1925, she reg­is­tered five first-place and two sec­ond-place ti­tles at the On­tario Ladies Track and Field Cham­pi­onships, as well as set­ting the world record of 11.0 sec­onds in the 100-yard dash.

Thomp­son re­called “Aunt Bob­bie” as be­ing good at just about ev­ery­thing she tried. “She was lean and strong and she had a gift, the abil­ity to fo­cus.

“She was so far ahead of ev­ery­one else, she got places be­cause of her skill,” Thomp­son said.

Al­ways a proud Jew, Rosen­feld turned down a mem­ber­ship to an oth­er­wise “re­stricted” golf club that was willing to bend its rules for an Olympic cham­pion.

“This is a Jewish fam­ily,” Thomp­son said of her aunt and her fam­ily, in ex­plain­ing why she turned down the of­fer.

Fol­low­ing her ca­reer in ath­let­ics, Rosen­feld re­mained in sports, work­ing as a colum­nist for the Globe and Mail. She of­ten fea­tured fe­male ath­letes and ad­vo­cated for equal treat­ment in the al­lo­ca­tion of prize money.

“She was gifted. She re­ally in­spired the Jewish Peo­ple of the time to show you could re­ally ac­com­plish some­thing,” Thomp­son stated.

*** Olympian Abi­gail (Abby) Hoff­man was born a gen­er­a­tion or two af­ter Rosen­feld first made an im­pact on women’s sports, but she too faced an up­hill chal­lenge in over­com­ing so­cial bar­ri­ers that lim­ited her abil­ity to par­tic­i­pate in sports.

In 1956, when she was nine years old, she dreamed of play­ing hockey, but at the time, there were no girls leagues in Toronto. In­stead, Hoff­man reg­is­tered for a boys team and with her short hair, she was taken for a boy. When her real iden­tity as a girl was re­vealed af­ter she was nom­i­nated to the league’s all-star team, her story be­came in­ter­na­tional news and prompted calls from par­ents through­out Toronto for a girls hockey league.

As she grew older, Hoff­man’s ath­letic ex­cel­lence con­tin­ued to de­velop, first in com­pet­i­tive swimming and then in long-dis­tance run­ning, as a mem­ber of the Toronto Olympic Club.

By the mid-1960s, she was al­ready a world-class run­ner, win­ning na­tional track cham­pi­onships and break­ing records. She medalled at the 1963 Pan Amer­i­can Games, win­ning gold in the 800-me­tre race. At the 1966 Com­mon­wealth Games in Kingston, Ja­maica, she earned a gold in the 880-yard race. She com­peted in four con­sec­u­tive Olympic Games and car­ried the Cana­dian flag at the open­ing cer­e­monies in Mon­treal in 1976.

Fanny (Bob­bie) Rosen­feld used to com­pete in her brother’s swim shorts and her fa­ther’s socks.

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