All-Time Greats

The very best at their game

Kayak (Canada) - - CONTENTS -

Chan­tal Petit­clerc (born 1969) Saint-Marc-des-Car­rières, Que.

When an ac­ci­dent at age 13 left her para­plegic — un­able to use her legs — Petit­clerc started swim­ming to keep fit and get stronger. At 17, she dis­cov­ered wheel­chair rac­ing, the sport where she would ex­cel. Petit­clerc won five gold medals and broke three world records at the 2004 Par­a­lympics in Greece, and re­peated that as­ton­ish­ing feat at the 2008 Par­a­lympics in China. In to­tal, she won 21 medals at five Par­a­lympic Games. She still holds the world records in the 200- and 400-me­tre events. In 2016, she was named to the Cana­dian Se­nate.

Wil­lie O’Ree (born 1935) Fred­er­ic­ton, N.B.

It was known as the colour bar­rier — a sort of un­of­fi­cial, un­writ­ten agree­ment among own­ers of pro­fes­sional sports teams that only white ath­letes should be al­lowed to play. (The amaz­ing Jackie Robin­son broke base­ball’s colour bar­rier in 1946 when he played a sea­son with the Mon­treal Roy­als, the Brook­lyn Dodgers' mi­nor league team.) It took more than a decade for the same thing to hap­pen in the NHL. The player was Wil­lie O’Ree, a speedy skater who had played all over New Brunswick, Que­bec and On­tario be­fore the Bos­ton Bru­ins put him on the ice in 1958. He re­tired from the game in the late 1970s.

Bob­bie Rosen­feld (1904-1969) Eka­teri­noslav, Rus­sia

Al­though her real name was Fanny, this ath­lete was known by ev­ery­one as Bob­bie be­cause of her bobbed (cut short) hair. She was great at pretty much ev­ery sport she tried: hockey, ten­nis, basketball, soft­ball and es­pe­cially track and field. At the 1925 On­tario women’s cham­pi­onships, she won five events and placed sec­ond in two more. In 1928 Rosen­feld was part of The Match­less Six, the first group of Cana­dian women to com­pete in the Olympics. There was a tight fin­ish in the 100-me­tre race be­tween her and an Amer­i­can. Some judges in­sisted the Amer­i­can broke the tape il­le­gally, but even­tu­ally de­cided Rosen­feld would have to set­tle for sec­ond place. When team­mate Jean Thomp­son hurt her­self be­fore the 800-me­tre race, Rosen­feld was added even though she hadn’t trained for it. She ran be­side Thomp­son to en­cour­age her. Thomp­son fin­ished fourth; Rosen­feld was fifth. With Rosen­feld as the first run­ner, the Cana­dian women won gold and set a new world record in the 400-me­tre re­lay race. She later be­came a sports jour­nal­ist and in 1949 was named Cana­dian Woman Ath­lete for the Half-Cen­tury.

Percy Wil­liams (1908-1982) Van­cou­ver, B.C.

He was small, but he was fast. Percy Wil­liams had suf­fered from rheumatic fever when he was a boy, which can dam­age the heart. His doc­tors told him to be care­ful, and not ex­er­cise too hard. He ig­nored them. Wil­liams weighed just 57 kilo­grams when he com­peted for Canada at the 1928 Olympics in Am­s­ter­dam. The other run­ners in the 100and 200-me­tre races were the fastest ever, not to men­tion much big­ger and heav­ier than Wil­liams, but he beat them all, win­ning gold in both events. Af­ter the Olympics, he toured the United States, rac­ing 22 times in three weeks and los­ing just once.

Lionel Conacher (1902-1954) Toronto, Ont.

The term “all-around ath­lete” barely be­gins to de­scribe Conacher. In high school, he was un­be­liev­ably good at every­thing he played: lacrosse, track and field, hockey, base­ball, box­ing, football and wrestling. He went on to be­come the Cana­dian light-heavy­weight box­ing cham­pion in 1920, the first time he’d en­tered a non-school box­ing com­pe­ti­tion. In 1921, he played on the Grey Cup­win­ning Toronto Arg­onauts, lead­ing them to a 23-0 win. (He left the game early to play in a hockey game the same night.) In 1922, his team won the On­tario lacrosse cham­pi­onship. In 1925 he turned to pro hockey, play­ing for sev­eral NHL teams over the years. Conacher is a mem­ber of — wait for it — three Cana­dian sports halls of fame for lacrosse, football and hockey. Big, brawny and not afraid to brawl, he earned one of the best nick­names in sports, “The Big Train.”

Clara Hughes (born 1972) Win­nipeg, Man.

It’s great to have some­thing you love to do out­side in both win­ter and sum­mer — just ask Clara Hughes. Okay, maybe she takes it to ex­tremes. Hughes is a cham­pion speed skater and a cham­pion cy­clist. She is the only per­son ever to win more than one medal at both the sum­mer and win­ter Olympic Games. She has won medals in the world cham­pi­onships of both events. Hughes helps other peo­ple by vol­un­teer­ing for sports char­i­ties and talk­ing openly about the hard times she has had with her men­tal health, es­pe­cially de­pres­sion.

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