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Inspiring Canadians - In Sport and Life

Honoured Member

BOBBIE ROSENFELD

Inducted in 1955

Member Details

Date of Birth: December 28, 1904
Place of Birth: Dneipropetrovsk, Russia
Date of Passing: November 14, 1969
Sport: Track Events
Member Category: Athlete

Career Highlights

1924
Toronto grass-courts tennis championship title
1925

Five 1st place and two 2nd place titles at Ontario Ladies Track and Field Championships

World record, 100yd. dash (11.0 seconds)

1928

Member, "Matchless Six," Canada's first Olympic women's track team

Gold medal in the 4x100m relay, a Silver medal in the 100m and 5th place in the 800m, Olympic games in Halifax

Honoured Member BOBBIE ROSENFELD
Inspire

Story

"Athletic maids, to arms! ... We are no longer satisfied with being just a 'rib of Adam,' but we have elected to hurl the discus, throw the javelin, run and jump as 'Adam' does." These words are enough to give the reader a hint as to the strength and character of Bobbie Rosenfeld, one of Canada's greatest female athletes. Anyone familiar with her accomplishments will know that she was true to these words, and then some; she hurled the discus, threw the javelin, ran, jumped, hit the baseball, shot the basketball, passed the puck, and back-handed the tennis ball at a time when sport was deemed an unladylike, even unhealthy activity for a young woman to engage in. Fanny Rosenfeld, better known by her nickname, "Bobbie," was born in Russia in 1904, came to Canada as an infant, and was raised in Barrie, Ontario. From a young age, Rosenfeld could not be kept off the softball diamonds, basketball courts, hockey rinks, lacrosse fields, tennis courts, and running tracks. Though she never had any sort of formal training, let alone the guidance of a coach, she easily excelled in whatever sport she undertook. Rosenfeld moved to Toronto with her family in 1922 and quickly made her presence felt in the city's athletic community. While working at the Patterson chocolate factory, she joined the company's athletic club, as well as the hockey and basketball teams of the Young Women's Hebrew Association. Rosenfeld, however, did not realize her own competitive potential until she attended a small sporting event in Beaverton, Ontario, in 1923. She was participating as part of the factory girls' softball team but was soon persuaded by her teammates to compete in the 100-yard dash. Rosenfeld finally agreed and, even though she had to run in her big softball "pup tent bloomers," she won the race. Much to her surprise, she was later informed that she was running against, and had beaten, Canadian sprinting champion Rosa Grosse. Rosenfeld, a true sporting "superwoman," continued to dominate athletic events throughout the 1920s. She defeated 100yd. world champion Helen Finkley in 1923, won the 1924 Toronto grass-courts tennis championship, led several of her teams into championship competition, and tied her running rival, Rosa Grosse, for the world 100yd. dash record with a time of 11 seconds flat. In a single afternoon at the 1925 Ontario Ladies' Track and Field Championships, she won the shot put, discus, running broad jump, 200yd. dash, and 100yd. low hurdles, while placing second in the 100yd. dash and the javelin. As there was no women's sporting attire available in these times, Rosenfeld performed many of these feats in men's swimming trunks and her father's borrowed socks. 1928 marked the first year that track and field events were open to women at the Olympics, and Rosenfeld was a vital part of the "Matchless Six," Canada's first and most famous national women's track team. She won a silver medal in the 100m race. In the 4 x 100m relay, Rosenfeld and her teammates claimed the gold medal in a record time of 48.2 seconds. Though she was not trained as a distance runner, Rosenfeld entered the 800m event in order to help Jean Thompson, a fellow Matchless Six member who was injured and ailing, make it through the race. As Thompson started to fade, Rosenfeld ran beside her, coaxing her to a remarkable fourth-place finish. Though she easily could have reached the podium herself, Bobbie claimed fifth place behind Thompson, a testament to her sportsmanship and unwavering team devotion. When asked about her amazing placing in an event she had not intended to enter, Rosenfeld brushed off her accomplishment and addressed officials in her usual joking manner, telling them that she only trained twice a week and kept her strength up with at least two pints of beer a day. Merely a year after her great Olympic triumphs, Rosenfeld was stricken with severe arthritis. When a doctor recommended she have a foot amputated, she characteristically refused, resigning herself to eight months in bed and a year on crutches. By 1931, she was back on the softball field, leading her league in home runs, and in 1932 she was voted Ontario's most outstanding women's hockey player. Her arthritis returned, however, in 1933, and she was forced to retire permanently from competition. Rosenfeld's health may have kept her off the field, but her strong athletic spirit could not be kept out of the game. She dabbled in coaching, taking the women's track-and-field team to the 1934 British Empire Games, and became a sports writer for Toronto's Globe and Mail in 1937. Her column, "Sports Reel," which was laced with her sharp wit and "salty" humour, promoted, encouraged, and defended women's sports. In her writing, she also worked to dispel attitudes surrounding the image of female athletes and "give the lie to those pen flourishes who depict us not as paragons of feminine physique, beauty and health, but rather as Amazons and ugly ducklings - all because we have become sports-minded and have chosen to delve whole-heartedly into competitive sport." Her column ran for twenty years, after which time Rosenfeld took on the responsibilities of the paper's public relations manager. Illness forced her into retirement in 1966. Despite her vast collection of glittering trophies and medals, Rosenfeld considered her greatest victory to be the day she was voted Canada's female athlete of the half century by the Canadian Press in 1950. This proved that she had truly left her mark on the athletic world and helped to change the existing attitudes toward women in sport. As she lived to observe: "The girl athletes have successfully crashed the sacred sanctum of men's sports realms. The sporting public likes them and wants them." The fact that the media even created a prestigious position such as a female athlete of the half century speaks volumes about Rosenfeld's revolutionary accomplishments. Today, an award in her name is annually bestowed upon Canada's top female athlete.


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