This Week in History


Female Athlete of the Half-Century

This story was initially published in 2000

One of the most naturally gifted athletes Canada has ever seen, Fanny "Bobbie" Rosenfeld was born on December 28, 1903.

Ethel Smith and Fanny Rosenfeld<br>in the 100-yard dash at the 1928 Olympics

Ethel Smith and Fanny Rosenfeld
in the 100-yard dash at the 1928 Olympics

© Library and Archives Canada / PA-151007

Originally from Russia, Bobbie grew up playing sports with the neighbourhood boys in Barrie, Ontario. Bobbie first rose to prominence in local track meets. In one of her first competitions, she managed to beat the Canadian record holder in the 100-yard dash! At the Ontario Ladies Track and Field championship in 1925, she placed in the top two in five different events, scoring enough points to win a team medal by herself.

In 1928, women were allowed to compete in the Olympic Games for the first time. Confronting longstanding prejudices against women performing in public and fears that sport would make them unfeminine, Rosenfeld wore men's athletic gear. She competed in several events, including the 100-yard dash, the relay, and the long jump. The only event in which she didn't medal was the 800-yard run, but that was because she refused to pass a teammate who was meant to be Canada's best chance to win. On top of that, she had never even trained for long-distance running! Bobbie and her teammates won the team medal for Track and Field. Ironically, the Canadian delegation was among the most opposed to women participating in the Olympic Games.

Unfortunately, Bobbie was plagued by health problems. The year following the Olympics, she spent eight months in the hospital with a serious flare-up of arthritis. She spent another year on crutches after that. As soon as she had recovered, she returned to athletics, playing baseball in summer and, her favourite, hockey in the winter. Although she retired from competition a few years later because her arthritis came back, she spent several years coaching and then went on to a highly successful career as a sports reporter.

Fanny "Bobbie" Rosenfeld, named Canada's female athlete of the half century, died on November 14, 1969. She is the only woman in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame as an "all-around" athlete and has been federally recognized as a National Historic Person. She is commemorated with a plaque in Barrie, Ontario.

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