Track and Field History: The Top 10 Canadian Athletes Since World War II
Just about two weeks ago, the wonderful show “Schitt’s Creek” came to an end after six seasons. The plot seems very topical because people who had lots, suddenly have nothing due to circumstances out of their control. All they have is each other and their family. That seems very timely. I was thinking about something that CBC (the show’s originator) did many years ago. They put together an online poll about the best Canadians of all-time. Terry Fox ended up being No. 2 on that list. There were all kinds of different people there including actors and entertainers. The top-ranked actor was Mike Meyers in 2004. I was thinking that these days he wouldn’t rank that high but Eugene Levy might crack the top 100 after the end of Schitt’s Creek.
That made me start thinking about how I would rank the top Canadian track and field athletes of all-time? How would that come together and what would it look like? I went back and did a lot of research to compile a top 10. I do have to qualify some things. I’m focusing on post-World War II and not as far back in history because the sport is so vastly different that it’s hard to compare. Also, anyone that was caught up in the Charle Francis and Ben Johnson doping ring has been disqualified. Chris Chavez asked me about someone like Moh Ahmed and I noted to him that I prioritized multiple world championship and Olympic medalists combined with longtime excellence. Another great athlete who might miss the cut, as a result, is someone like pole vault world champion Shawn Barber or sprinter Andre DeGrasse.
Here’s my top 10 in order…
No. 10 – Dylan Armstrong, Shot Put
He was competitive on the world stage for about six years. He had five Diamond League wins in that time. He was a Commonwealth Games champion. He was a silver and bronze medalist at the world championships, as well as a bronze medalist at the 2008 Olympic games.
No. 9 – Perdita Felicien, Hurdler
She had a fairly long career at the top end of hurdling from 2003 to 2011. She really exploded on the scene in 2003 when she was the 100-meter hurdles world champion. She also won a silver medal in the event four years later. She was a world indoor champion in 2004. She notched two Golden League wins in her career.
No. 8 – Michael Smith, Decathlete
He had a tremendously long career at the top. He was a three-time Commonwealth Games champion in 1990, 1994 and 1998. He was a world championship silver medalist in 1991 and a bronze medalist in 1995. He was a two-time Gotzis decathlon champion. Now, he’s a broadcaster with CBC and I always impressed that at the 2008 Olympics he could pronounce Chinese hurdler Shi Dongpeng’s name correctly with the right Northern Chinese accent. Meanwhile, NBC couldn’t pronounce the host city’s name correctly.
No. 7 – Brianne Theisen-Eaton, Heptathlete
Some may know her as the wife of two-time Olympic champion Ashton Eaton but she was a tremendous athlete in her own regard. She was ranked second in the heptathlon for three years in a row (2013-15) in Track and Field News’ world rankings. She was twice a world championships silver medalist, the 2014 Commonwealth Games champion and 2014 world indoor champion. She won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. She won the Gotzis heptathlon three times.
No. 6 – Damian Warner, Decathlete
You’re seeing a lot of multi athletes here. He’s still active. He first hit the big time in 2012 when he was fifth at the London Games. Since then, he’s been a world championship silver medalist in 2015 and bronze medalist in 2013 and 2019. He was the Olympic bronze medalist in the decathlon in Rio. He is a Commonwealth Games champion. He has won 16 national titles. For six out of the last seven years, he’s been one of the top three decathletes in the world, according to the Track and Field News world rankings.
No. 5 – Bill Crothers, Middle Distance
For three years in a row (1963-95), he was the world’s best half-miler not named Peter Snell. He was ranked No. 1, No. 2 and No. 1 in those three years. He was the Olympic silver medalist in 1964. His time in Tokyo of 1:45.6 was a Canadian national record for 24 years and still ranks him at No. 8 on the all-time Canadian list.
No. 4 – Harry Jerome, Sprinter
He’s got a track meet named after him because he was a tremendous sprinter from 1960 to 1968. He suffered a number of injuries over the years but when he was healthy, he was great. He set or tied world records at 60 yards, 100 yards or 100 meters. He was an Olympic bronze medalist in 1964. He almost assuredly would have been a Commonwealth Games champion in the 100 or 200 in 1962 but he came in sick and got injured. In 1966, he was a Commonwealth Games champion in the 100 yards. He was a three-time Olympian for Canada in 1960, 1964 and 1968.
No. 3 – Debbie Brill, High Jumper
She has a number of accomplishments. In terms of Track and Field News ranking points, she is the highest-scoring Canadian of all-time. She has held the Canadian national record in the high jump from 1969 to now. Her records have still not yet been beaten. She broke her own record several times but no one has been closer to breaking 2-meters than any other Canadian. Her record of 1.99 m (6 ft 6 in) was set in 1982. The only time she was not in Track and Field News’ world rankings from 1970 to 1975 were 1973 and 1974 because she took two years away from the track. She decided to quit and then came back. In 1981, she took a year off to have a baby but other than that, she was in the world’s top 10 from 1970 to 1985. She was 8th in the 1972 Olympics. She no-heighted at the 1976 Olympics. She was cheated out of going to the Olympics in 1980 with the U.S.-led boycott. She placed 5th in 1984.
No. 2 – Derek Drouin, High Jumper
He is the 2016 Olympic champion in the high jump and also won gold at the 2015 world championships. He was a bronze medalist in 2012 at the Olympics. He is a man who has come back from a number of severe injuries including a Lisfranc injury in 2010/2011. That’s usually something that high jumpers tend to struggle with but he managed to come back and hit the top.
No. 1 – Donovan Bailey, Sprinter
He’s the only track and field athlete who made the top 100 list of Greatest Canadians. He was the 1996 Olympic champion in the 100 meters and broke the world record in 9.84. That time still stands as a Canadian record. In 1995, he was the world champion in the 100 meters. In 1996, he also anchored the winning 4×100-meter relay team that set a world record. In 1997, he was a world championship silver medalist.
That’s my top 10. There’s a lot of people that just barely missed the cut like Moh Ahmed, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, Jerome Drayton, Milt Ottey, Bruce Kidd, and other remarkable athletes. I had to cut it down to top 10 somehow. If you feel like letting us know who we missed, email us at [email protected]