CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 12 . . . . February 17, 2006
The Matchless Six: The Story of Canada's First Women's Olympic Team.
Toronto, ON : Tundra Books, 2006.
194 pp., pbk., $22.99.
Women athletes-Canada-History-20th century-Juvenile literature.
Olympic Games (9th: 1928: Amsterdam, Netherlands )-Juvenile literature.
Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.
Review by Elizabeth Larssen.
Reviewed from prepublication copy.
Among the Canadians in the stands, there were smiles, tears, and gasps of relief. Hard luck and disappointment had dogged the women's team throughout the week. But, on the last day of the competition, they had a first, and the Canadian flag was going to the masthead of the center flagpole. The applause in the stadium was deafening. They expected a great reception if they won, Gibb said, but they didn't anticipate the "wholehearted outburst" from the Dutch, whose relay team they had just defeated.
On the field, Bobbie, Ethel, and Jane ran towards a breathless Myrtle. Grabbing hold of her, the new Olympic champions laughed and whooped. Cameramen who were trying to get them to pose for pictures found it impossible: They were jumping up and down too much.
Who among us can forget the jubilant celebrations of the Canadian women's hockey team when they won the gold medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics? Even if you are not a hockey fan, it was difficult not to be drawn into celebratory mood and the collective sense of pride that the country felt on learning of their win. While it now seems foreign to the modern audience, it wasn't very long ago that there was an ongoing debate as to whether women should be allowed to participate in the Olympics at all. At the time, the Matchless Six, as they are affectionately known, did not think of themselves as pioneers. Yet these Canadian Olympians undoubtedly paved the way for the future successes we see in our female athletes today.
Ron Hotchkiss' The Matchless Six provides biographical information of the women who were on the first Canadian women's Olympic team at the Summer Games in Amsterdam, 1928. In addition, he also gives background as to the historical and social context of the era surrounding ideas of women athletes and the challenges they faced. The time leading up to the Summer Games in Amsterdam was an era of much social upheaval in Canada -- women had only just been given the right to vote and were allowed more personal freedoms than ever before. The concept of women as legitimate athletes and Olympic competitors was also a part of the sea change during this period. Hotchkiss has had a lifelong interested in the Matchless Six – in fact, he is so fascinated by the story that he decided that he had to write a book.
A minor issue with this work is that the track and field distances stated are occasionally measured in yards but mainly measured in meters. While a note at the beginning of the book gives the conversion of yards to meters, it would have been preferable to maintain a consistent standard throughout.
The Matchless Six contains an index, making it easy to locate particular figures, places and concepts discussed. Interspersed throughout the text are black and white photographs that provide support and add interest. Hotchkiss' work is likely to be in high demand during the months leading up to either the Winter or Summer Games, but I would expect it to be used primarily as supplementary material for classroom instruction, especially given the attention paid to the history of the modern Olympics and the rise of the female athlete.
The Matchless Six is an engaging read about the life and times of Canada 's pioneering female athletes. While their stories are not sugar-coated accounts of battling against stereotypes of female athletes, nor do they triumph in the face of insurmountable odds, they are sure to be an inspiration nonetheless. This book would be a worthwhile addition to any school or public library collection.
Elizabeth Larssen divides her time between her position at a public library and her studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, where she is pursuing a degree in Library and Information Studies.
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