Canada’s perfomances at the Winter Olympics over the years have helped them develop into one of the best countries competing each time. The fact that one of the best winter games in recent memory – Vancouver 2010 – was hosted in Canada is a small bit of proof of that. But the athletes themselves do a great job of backing that up: 14 gold medals that magical year in 2010, smashing any previous gold medal record the Canadian team had set for themselves.
While many great Canadian performances at the winter games have come from team efforts, eg. the pairs events for figure skating and the men’s and women’s hockey teams, this top 10 list focuses on the men and women who have best represented Canada in individual events. Therefore, this list is dominated by speed skaters – with a few exceptions, notably of snowboarder Alexandre Bilodeau, who triumphed in both Vancouver and Sochi to win gold in men’s freestyle skiing. The list will be in the order of both the number of medals they’ve won over each winter games they’ve participated in, as well as how memorable their performances were and their legacy on Canadian winter sports today.
Some have won multiple medals over different Olympic years in both individual and team events, while others have managed to achieve Olympic glory in a remarkably shorter period of time, and also at a younger age. Some are still active and pursuing further glory at Sochi’s ongoing Winter Olympics, while others had their heyday decades ago and are long retired. Some of them are also inductees into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame. No matter how you slice it, these 10 men and women have achieved what so many other athletes in Canada and around the world are never able to. Here are the top 10 Canadian Winter Olympians of all time who compete primarily in individual events.
10 Nancy Greene (Alpine Skiing) - 1 Gold - 1 Silver
One of the few members of this list to be named to the Order of Canada, Nancy Greene is also one of the earliest Canadian athletes to make a huge impact on the podium at the Winter Olympics. The alpine skiier from BC won a gold in the women’s giant slalom event – as well as a silver in the women’s slalom – at the 1968 winter games in Grenoble. The skiier nicknamed “Tiger” had previously won the Canadian ski championship on nine occasions, and was an Olympic Ambassador in 2010 for the games in Vancouver. Today, Greene is a politician, acting as a Senator for British Columbia.
9 Christine Nesbitt (Speed Skating) - 1 Gold - 1 Silver
This Australian-born Calgary native has won medals galore in non-Olympic speed skating events, but Christine Nesbitt’s peak has arguably come through winning gold during the women’s 1000 m event at the 2010 games in Vancouver, after winning silver in the team pursuit in Turin four years earlier. Almost two years later, Nesbitt set the world record for 1000 metres in women’s speed skating; a record that is still the highest ever recorded by a Canadian. Nesbitt has been representing Canada in Sochi this year as well; however, she finished ninth in the same 1000 m race she once won gold in and therefore failed to medal.
8 Jennifer Heil (Freestyle Skiing) - 1 Gold - 1 Silver
Although she couldn't repeat what she did in Turin in 2006, Jennifer Heil’s medal tally of that gold plus a silver in Vancouver in 2010 – the first medal Canada won during those games, despite Heil unexpectedly losing to American Hannah Kearney for the gold – is still pretty impressive. The native of Spruce Grove, Alberta is also the reigning world champion in dual moguls, and retired from competitive skiing in 2011. Following her retirement, Heil has been actively involved with sports-related charitable organizations such as Right to Play, as well as girl’s rights organization Because I am a Girl. Heil has also been doing broadcast work at this year’s Olympics in Sochi with CBC.
7 Alexandre Bilodeau (Freestyle Skiing) - 2 gold
A then 22-year-old Alexandre Bilodeau made Canadian Olympic history in 2010 after being the first homegrown athlete to win a gold medal on home soil when he won the men’s moguls event in Vancouver. His victory ended up being one of the lasting images of the games for any Canadian watching. Now, he’s matched Catriona Le May Doan’s feat of successfully defending his gold medal in the same event at this year’s games in Sochi. However, Bilodeau has already announced that the 2014 games are his last, and the proverbial torch will now be passed to fellow Quebecois freestyle skiier/rival Mikael Kingsbury, who won silver in Sochi in the men’s moguls event.
6 Catriona Le May Doan (Speed Skating) - 2 Gold - 1 Bronze
After a performance in Nagano in 1998 that saw her take home both gold and bronze – in the 500 m and 1000 m events, respectively – Catriona Le May Doan won a second straight 500 m gold in 2002 in Salt Lake City. A member of the Order of Canada and inductee into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, Le May Doan may be more recently remembered for featuring in the opening ceremonies at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver where she didn't get to light a cauldron due to a technical slip-up that led to one of the arms failing to rise.
5 Denny Morrison (Speed Skating) - 1 Gold - 2 Silver - 1 Bronze
While Denny Morrison made headlines for winning a silver in 2006 and a gold in 2010 for his part in Canada’s speed skating team pursuit events, he’s made headlines in Sochi this year in a very different way. After failing to qualify for the 1000 metre event, his Canadian teammate Gilmore Junio selflessly gave up his spot so that Morrison could skate the event in his place. Morrison would go on to win silver in that event in Sochi, as well as a bronze in the men’s 1500 metre. After his performances at Sochi, Morrison now shares the record for most medals by a Canadian male long track speed skater with Gaetan Boucher.
4 Gaetan Boucher (Speed Skating) - 2 Gold - 1 Silver - 1 Bronze
The other athlete on this list to have been named to the Order of Canada, Gaetan Boucher is also one of the pioneers for Canadian speed skating at the Winter Olympics. Canada would go on to be one of the most competitive nations in the sport – just look at this list for proof. Boucher won two golds in Sarajevo in 1984 in both the 1000 metre and 1500 metre events, as well as a bronze in the 500 metre event that same year. Boucher had previously won silver at the men’s 1000 metre event four years earlier in Lake Placid. Nowadays, Boucher works as a broadcaster for the Winter Olympics with Radio-Canada.
3 Clara Hughes (speed skating) - 1 Gold - 1 Silver - 2 Bronze
To have the distinction of winning medals in different sports in both the summer and winter games is quite rare. But for Clara Hughes, that’s exactly what she’s been able to accomplish. After first winning two cycling bronze medals at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, the native of Winnipeg has done even better in her career in speed skating. Hughes won gold in 2006 in the 5000 m women’s event as well as silver in the team pursuit, and won bronzes in both Salt Lake and Vancouver – the latter of which she was Canada’s flag bearer at the opening ceremonies – in 2002 and 2010 respectively.
2 Charles Hamelin (Speed Skating) - 3 Gold - 1 Silver
After his silver medal victory in 2006 in Turin in the 5000 metre relay, Charles Hamelin fared even better in Vancouver four years later, winning gold in both the 5000 metre event and the relay. He’s won another gold this year in Sochi in the 1500 metre, reinforcing his reputation as being one of the most consistent medal-winning Winter Olympians in Canada. The native of Levis, Quebec is also the former world record holder in the men’s 1000 metre, and has a family deeply-rooted in short track speed skating, as he sometimes competes alongside brother and fellow Winter Olympian Francois Hamelin, and the national short track team’s director is their father, Yves.
1 Cindy Klassen (Speed Skating) - 1 Gold - 2 Silver - 3 Bronze
She may not have the most gold medals among the other nine athletes on this list – only one from her victory in the 1500 metre women’s event in Turin in 2006 – but long track speed skater Cindy Klassen’s ability to deliver podium-worthy performances in such a short amount of time and help build a national reputation as one of the best Canadian Olympians ever gives her the number one spot. The Winnipeg native won two silvers and two bronzes in addition to her gold medal in Turin and her previous bronze medal in the women’s 3000 metre in Salt Lake in 2002. Klassen has also been named to the Order of Manitoba and was featured on a Canadian quarter during the 2010 games to commemorate her accomplishments in Turin.