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Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfeld – Outstanding Female Athlete

For the week of Monday August 2, 2010

On August 6, 1928, Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfeld led the Canadian women’s relay team to a gold medal, setting a world record, at the Olympics in Amsterdam. In a controversial move, Canada sent a team of six women, nicknamed the “Matchless Six,” to compete in Olympic track and field. It was the first time that women had been allowed to participate in Olympic track, in a period when it was considered inappropriate for women to participate in sports. Unhindered, “Bobbie” competed successfully at the games, winning one gold and one silver medal.

Fanny Rosenfeld (second from left) at the Summer Olympic Games
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-151007

Born in Russia in 1903, Rosenfeld and her family moved to Barrie, Ontario, when she was an infant. In 1923, she moved with her family to Toronto and quickly became involved in athletics. While working as a stenographer at the Patterson Chocolate Factory, Rosenfeld participated in a sporting event in Beaverton, Ontario, as a part of the factory’s softball team. During the competition, she was convinced by teammates to enter the 100-metre race and won, unknowingly beating the Canadian 100-metre champion at the time, Rosa Grosse. The same year, Rosenfeld beat the world champion. Rosenfeld went on to win a tennis championship in 1924. She participated in the Ontario Ladies’ Track and Field Championship in 1925, setting a world record in the 100-metre race.

Canadian women’s track and field team (Rosenfeld is second from left)
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-151003
In 1928, when the International Amateur Athletic Federation allowed women to compete in track events, Rosenfeld tried out and set Canadian records in long jump, standing long jump and discus. At the Olympics, Rosenfeld captured the hearts of Canadians when she entered the 800-metre race, a race for which she had never trained, in order to provide moral support for her injured teammate, Jean Thomson. When Thomson began to fall behind in the race, Bobbie ran beside her, encouraging her teammate to a fourth-place finish and satisfying herself with fifth place.

An all-around athlete, Rosenfeld excelled in numerous sports, including hockey, basketball, track and field, and softball. She was forced to retire from competition because of severe arthritis in 1931, but continued to involve herself in athletics, promoting and defending women’s sports in her column, “Sports Reel,” for the Globe and Mail, and coaching a track and field team in 1934. In 1949, Bobbie was voted Canada’s female amateur athlete of the half-century and was made a charter member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1955.

For her achievements in amateur sport, Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfeld was designated a National Historic Person in 1976.

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