5 Lesser-Known Canadian Sports Triumphs

Sure, you know all about our hockey prowess, We the North, and the best bat flip in history, but what about some of Canada’s lesser-known sports triumphs?

Susan Nattrass Wins All the Medals

You’d think that a widely respected researcher in osteoporosis wouldn’t have time to also collect a bunch of medals for trap shooting, but that’s exactly what Susan Nattrass did. She’s been to the Olympics eight times, won gold medals at the World Championships seven times, and picked up a bunch of medals at multiple Pan Am Games and Commonwealth Games.

Laurie Skreslet Summits Everest

In 1982, Laurie Skreslet became the first Canadian to summit Mount Everest. But this feat nearly didn’t happen. Early in the expedition, four team members were killed in avalanches at base camp. Skreslet, already haunted by the death of a good friend while climbing in Banff, nearly lost his nerve. The media turned against the expedition and the sponsors ended up cutting off supplies, telling everyone to come home. Skreslet made the climb anyway and made history.

The Canadian Women’s Rowing Gold

For the Canadian women’s rowing teams, the 1992 Barcelona Olympics looked precarious. One of their key rowers, Jennifer Walinga, was forced to withdraw from the competition. Fortunately, sub Kay Worthington fit in so well that the team took gold in both the eight and four competitions. Ultimately, Canadian rowers took home four gold medals and one bronze. A member of the women’s eight and four teams, Brenda Taylor, ended up giving one of her gold medals to Walinga, in recognition of the fact that they wouldn’t have gotten to the point of victory without the many hours of training they’d done with Walinga in the boat.

Ian Millar Is Captain Canada

So, who’s the most prolific Canadian athlete out there? Well, it’s a loaded question, but for our money it might be Ian Millar, who holds the record for most Olympic appearances representing Canada. Ten times, Millar has donned the maple leaf and represented us in equestrian show jumping. He made his first appearance in Munich in ’72 at the age of 25 and his final in London in 2012 at the age of 65. Now he coaches.

Lloyd Percival Changed Everything

If you were a track and field athlete in the 1950s, your coaches would have discouraged you from drinking water during workouts. If you were a hockey player, your coaches would have scoffed at the idea of interval training. If you were an athlete of any stripe, your coaches wouldn’t have bothered with telling you what to eat.

But one man thought pretty hard about a lot of that stuff, and it’s a shame he’s so unknown, because we’re just catching up with him now. Lloyd Percival did radical things like have his athletes stretch, coach them about sports psychology, follow nutrition plans, and more. He had people jogging for fitness at a time when jogging was considered weird. He advocated a science-based approach to training and winning. Now, Percival’s influence can be seen everywhere. But if you want to know just how overlooked Percival has been, think back to the ’72 Summit Series and The Goal.

People forget but Paul Henderson was considered a long shot to join the team. After all, he had a physical condition where one of his lungs was about half the size it should have been. So Henderson sought out Percival, who put Henderson through serious physical training to the point where he became one of the fittest athletes on the ice. And it’s a good thing Team Canada had that edge, because the Soviets were taking a science-based approach to hockey training.

For example, every hockey fan knows the story of Soviet Vladislav Tretiak bouncing tennis balls off the wall and catching them to build hand-eye coordination, and Canadian players being confused about why anyone would do that. What most people don’t know is that Percival invented that drill, and even had Terry Sawchuk do it, but NHL coaches at the time rejected the approach and thought it was stupid. Too bad the sports establishment didn’t start listening to Percival sooner.