Glory & Defeat: Canada’s Most Famous Olympic Moments

Iconic memories we shared

The tears, the frustration, the joy – and that’s just from the audience watching at home. Canadian athletes have represented the country in one way or another throughout the years. They’ve shared their story, and performed feats to their fullest capability while letting the world in on their emotional and physical journey. And through it all, Canadians have been there, tuning in to share support and encouragement and cry happy or disappointed tears. Step back into Olympic history and remember some of the moments that brought us together.

Gerry Ouellette & Gilmour Boa, shooting (Melbourne 1956)


(Garry Ouellette (left) & Gilmour Boa (right) courtesy of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame)

Times of teamwork in individual sport are always bound to make a ‘best moments’ list. Ouellette and Boa worked together to share Boa’s rifle after Ouellette’s caused him trouble earlier during the Games. Boa matched his world record score, then gave his rifle to Ouellette to win the gold medal with a perfect 600 score.

George Hungerford & Roger Jackson, rowing (Tokyo 1964)


Canadian Olympic officials and the media skipped the rowing event, with all bets off of alternates Hungerford and Jackson. The men had begun training together just weeks before the coxless pair, so imagine the surprise when the underdogs cleared the race despite their boat lacking a rudder. They were dubbed the “Golden Rejects,” and won Canada’s first Summer Games gold medal since 1956.

Greg Joy, high jump (Montreal 1976)

It was a cold and rainy day when Greg Joy cleared 2.23 metres in the high jump to bring home a medal in Canada, for Canada. It wasn’t gold – the host country didn’t place first on home turf – but a silver that made Joy jump for joy. It’s him you see at the end of the CBC ‘Oh Canada’ montage that used to end its broadcasting day. Joy’s win was Canada’s first high jump medal since 1932.


Ben Johnson, 100m (Seoul 1988)

Canadians were emotional about Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson sailing past the competition – including rival Carl Lewis – in the 100m ‘race to end all races’. He trounced his own world record with a time of 9.79 seconds, and then-prime minister Brian Mulroney phoned to thank him on live TV. Two days later, the Olympics were rocked with shock and horror when Ben was stripped of his medal after testing positive for steroid use.

Lawrence Lemieux, sailing (Seoul 1988)

Lemieux didn’t stand on the podium, but he was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal after he sabotaged his own race to help save the Singapore team. Lemieux was in second place in the Finn class, but after rescuing the capsized pair he reentered the race in twenty-second place. Lemieux was the fifth recipient of the de Coubertin medal, which awards athletes who exemplify the spirit of the Olympics.

The Battle of the Brians, figure skating (Calgary 1988)

Canadians loved their figure skating in the 80s, and Brian Orser was a national fan favourite. He consistently won silver in competitions but had finally conquered Worlds in 1987 and was set to win gold at the Olympics. The Battle of the Brians was followed closely by Canadians who adored Orser, and Americans who rooted for the other Brian – Boitano. There was so much hype around the event that Orser was even the flag-bearer during the opening ceremonies that year. Alas, heartbreak crushed the country when he
lost the gold to Boitano by .10 of a point.

Mark Tewksbury, 100-metre backstroke (Barcelona 1992)

Already a silver medalist as a member of Canada’ s relay team, Tewksbury was ranked fourth in the world when he competed at Barcelona. Surprising the crowd, who had eyes on American swimmer Jeff Rouse, Tewksbury came from behind to take the gold right at the wall. The medal was the first for Canada in the Barcelona Games, and the first Canadian gold in swimming since Los Angeles 1984.

Sylvie Frechette, women’s solo, synchronized swimming (Barcelona 1992)

Frechette’s business partner and fiance committed suicide just a week before the 1992 Games, but she took to the pool anyway. A Brazilian judge accidentally awarded her a score of 8.7 instead of 9.7, causing her to lose the gold medal to the great upset of her Canadian fans. The Canadian Olympic Committee appealed the error and Frechette was awarded a gold medal a year later.

Donovan Bailey, 100m (Atlanta 1996)

A former stockbroker, Canadians had hope that Jamaican-born Donovan Bailey would restore glory to Canadian athletes after the Ben Johnson/Seoul incident. Not only was he a blur racing past his competitors, he set a world record of 9.84 seconds in the 100m race and made it look easy. He became the second person behind Carl Lewis to hold the three major titles (World Champion, Olympic Champion and World Record Holder) in the 100m at the same time. Oh, and a week later? He was part of the relay team that did this:

Ben Johnson who?

Daniel Igali, wrestling (Sydney 2000)

Nigerian-born Igali sought refugee status in Canada after competing in the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria. He won 116 consecutive matches at Simon Fraser University between 1997 and 1999 and became Canadian in 1998. His win at the Summer Games gave Canada its first Olympic gold medal in men’s wrestling – and also a new form of celebration when he danced around the Canadian flag to honour his new country and his win.

Sara Renner, cross-country skiing (Turin 2006)

A selfless act of sportsmanship was witnessed during the cross-country team sprint. Renner’s ski pole broke after a competitor stepped on it, but the Norwegian coach quickly replaced hers with a new one. The Norwegian athlete placed fourth, while Sara won the silver medal. Later, the Norwegian coach would receive more than 7,000 cans of maple syrup alongside phone calls and letters from grateful Canadians.

Joannie Rochette, figure skating (Vancouver 2010)

Rochette’s mom arrived in Vancouver to watch her daughter compete, and died of a heart attack two days before Rochette’s competition began. Despite the tragedy, Rochette chose to compete at the Games anyway, in honour of her mother. There wasn’t a dry eye in the country when she took to the ice, and she won the bronze medal for her efforts. She later received the inaugural Terry Fox award for her determination, and was voted female athlete of the year by the Canadian Press.

Hockey Gold (Vancouver 2010)


(Photo by s.yume)

More than 16 million people tuned in to watch the final hockey game of the 2010 Olympics, which set an all-time viewing record in the country. The woman’s hockey team had already gracefully secured their gold in a thriller against the American team, and the men’s game – also against the U.S. – was the last competitive event of the home-based games and dubbed the most important game of all time. The score was tied 2-2 by the U.S. with 25 seconds left of the third period, forcing the game into a nail-biting sudden death. Seven minutes and forty seconds into overtime, Sidney Crosby scored and Canadians responded by putting their beers down to scream. The win brought Canada’s gold medal tally to 14 – an Olympic record.

You can watch highlights of the men’s game here and the women’s game here.

Nickelback (Vancouver 2010)

You can decide whether this was one of Canada’ s best or worst moments.


Now test your own strength and endurance, and push your body and mind to the limit to see just how much you can take of a compilation showing Canadians celebrating one tie breaking goal:

(Main photo by s.yume)