Most Well-Known Champions in CanadaApril 16, 2021
Canada has a proud tradition of creating champions and has produced world-beating individuals in arenas as varied as the poker table and the racetrack. Many of these greats are individual winners, while others have proven lynchpins in team success for Canada on the global stage. In no particular order, here are some of the greatest Canadian champions, including sporting heroes of yesteryear and those who are still going strong.
Formula 1 Winner Jacques Villeneuve
A Canadian Formula One Champion
Jacques Villeneuve is one of the most well known Canadian champions thanks to his global success in Formula 1, the sport in which he became the first man from Canada (Quebec to be exact) to take the title (in 1997).
Father and son drivers are nothing new to F1, with Graham and Damon Hill predating Villeneuve and his father Gilles, and the Rosbergs, Verstappens, Piquets, and Schumachers to follow. The Canadian pairing of Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve is perhaps especially poignant, as the father came immensely close to taking the title before his premature death, and the son went on to achieve the victory his father had dreamed of.
In 1995, Jacques Villeneuve triumphed in the Indianapolis 500, and won the CART Championship in the same year. After leaving CART he joined Williams, at the time one of the top teams in F1, and joined Damon Hill. Things got off to a bright start, with a podium on his debut and a first race victory just four rounds into the season at the 1996 European Grand Prix (hosted at the Nürburgring). It was a dominant performance, passing his more experienced team mate off the line and leading from start to finish. The 1996 title fight went to the wire, and at the last race Villeneuve was in with a shot of sealing the deal in his first season, but Hill won the race, and the title, and the Canadian driver was forced to retire due to a reliability failure.
The 1997 season proved another story, however. Hill, despite being world champion, parted ways with Williams, and Villeneuve was joined by Heinz-Harald Frentzen as his team mate. The Canadian won two of the first three races, and was once more in a title tussle. His opponent this time was German driver Michael Schumacher. Going into the final race, Schumacher led by a solitary point. The last event, Jerez, saw the two men collide on track. This forced the German to retire but Villeneuve, despite sustaining some damage, was able to complete the race and win the world title in only his second season in F1.
Card Shark Daniel Negreanu
Canadian Poker Sensation
Due in large part to the advent of the internet, playing at casinos has never been more popular and one of the most successful players is none other than Canada's own Daniel Negreanu.
Born in Toronto, this Canadian card shark today lives in Las Vegas, the global gambling capital (perhaps unsurprisingly). It's no mean feat to be named the best player of the year, and more impressive still to be awarded this accolade on two separate occasions (2004 and 2013) when Negreanu won the WSOP Player of the Year award. Indeed, he's the only man to ever achieve this distinction twice.
Losing money at cards is pretty easy. Making money with poker is challenging, and amassing huge sums is very difficult indeed as players have to combine an intuitive grasp of mathematics with psychological insights into others, and the capacity to keep heart-pounding emotions in check to avoid falling prey to either arrogance or fear. Negreanu combines all these traits, and then some. His total winnings to date exceed a cool $42m. That isn't bad, especially considering he only learnt how to play poker when, as a teenager, he was aspiring to become a snooker pro. Negreanu often appears for charity, such as the Big Swing charity golf event, which he founded.
The Global Poker Index, an independent ranking organization, recognized him as the best poker player of the decade in 2014. That same year he was entered into the Poker Hall of Fame. Career highlights for Negreanu include twice winning the World Poker Tour (WPT) championship title and acquiring half a dozen World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets (awarded to the winner of each event at the yearly WSOP).
World's Leading Soccer Scorer Christine Sinclair
Christine Sinclair is one of the great soccer stars of all time, and is currently the record international goal scorer of all time (in both the men's and women's game) with 186 goals to her name. With 296 caps, Sinclair is also the most highly capped player still in the sport, and has been named the Canada Soccer Player of the Year on an incredible 14 occasions.
Hailing from Burnaby in British Columbia, Sinclair has unrivalled global experience, having competed in three Olympics and all five World Cups. Not only that, she scored in all five World Cup competitions, only the second player to do so. In 2012 she was awarded both the Lou Marsh Trophy as the nation's top athlete, and the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award for being Canada's finest female athlete in that year.
Queen of the Slopes Nancy Greene
Former Canadian Senator
From the dead flat athletics track to serious slopes, Nancy Greene's chosen sport couldn't be much more different to the 100m. Born in Ottawa before moving to British Columbia at a young age, Greene honed her craft on the infamous Red Mountain, a seriously challenging training ground of steep, tree-festooned declines, and cliff drops that some consider to be not so much just tough sporting terrain, but downright dangerous.
But it was also the crucible that forged Greene into Canada's most successful skier with multiple World Champion and Olympic medals. So aggressive she earned the nickname 'Tiger', Greene managed to upset the Europeans who had, up until her arrival in the 1960s, held a chokehold on skiing success. She won a dozen Canadian and US championships (nine and three, respectively), winning the World Cup in 1967 (the inaugural competition) and 1968.
The Winter Olympics in 1968 were held in Grenoble, and Greene shone on this global sporting stage, claiming gold in the giant slalom and silver in the slalom. In both 1967 and 1968 she was named the Canadian Athlete of the Year in recognition of her skiing success.
Sprint Champion Donovan Bailey
Three Time World Champion
Probably the most well known of Canadian champions on the track, Donovan Bailey was a sprinting medal machine for the country. Bailey was born in Manchester Parish in Jamaica where he showed significant pace as a young lad, before migrating to Canada when he was 12. At first his main interest was in basketball, while his brother racked up a quartet of Ontario provincial athletics titles (in the long jump). It was while working as a property and marketing consultant that Bailey took the step of racing on a professional basis.
He made the decision in a slightly ironic way, having realized that, at school, he'd beaten a majority of the men competing in the 1990 Canadian Track and Field Championships. Combining sprint training with his day job as a stockbroker, Bailey was part of the silver medal-winning Canadian 4x100m relay team at the 1991 Pan American Games.
On the domestic front, Bailey competed for Fenerbahçe Athletics in 1993 and 1994, racking up medals of every hue. This included a gold medal in the 4x100m relay in the 1994 Commonwealth Games, and Bailey was only getting faster.
A personal first was claimed by Bailey in 1995 when he broke the 10s barrier, only the second Canadian sprinter to achieve this. He was the bookie's real money Canadian favorite to win the Gothenburg World Championships, and he achieved this personal gold medal before going on to help the Canadian 4x100m team to win their final.
Having conquered the World Championships, only the Olympic title yet eluded Bailey. By this stage he was odds on to take the gold in Atlanta in 1996, and duly went on to take the biggest prize in the sprinting world. And the cherry on the cake was when he once again formed part of a gold medal-winning Canadian 4x100m relay team.
Sadly, Bailey ruptured his Achilles tendon in 1997, and this put paid to his career. But in his heyday this well known Canadian champion won global titles and was the fastest man on Earth.
Grand Slam Winner Bianca Andreescu
Canada's Top Athlete
Another Toronto born Canadian winner is tennis player Bianca Andreescu. Born in 2000, her professional career began in 2015, and just a few years later she racked up some incredible tournament triumphs and reached a career high ranking of number 4 in the world.
She was born in Ontario to parents who emigrated from Romania, the daughter of a mechanical engineer and banker. Romania's loss was Canada's gain and, as a junior, Andreescu hit a ranking of number 3 in the world, winning her first titles in 2014. A year later she rose to the ITF Women's Circuit and began her first faltering forays into Grand Slams. In 2018 she didn't manage to qualify for any of the four Grand Slam tournaments, but 2019 was a whole other matter.
That year she reached the final of the Auckland Open, losing to defending champion Julia Görges but beating top seed Caroline Wozniacki along the way. This tournament was to prove both a milestone in Andreescu's career and a good omen for the entire year. Although she only won a single match at the Australian Open, this marked her first victory in a Grand Slam tournament, and it wouldn't be her last of the year.
Taking heart from a semi-final performance in the Mexican Open, Andreescu followed up a good result with a great one, claiming her first WTA title at the Indian Wells Open. This was also a historic first, as she became the only lady in the tournament's history to win the title as a wild card.
A shoulder injury interrupted her strong season, but Andreescu bounced back better than ever, winning her home tournament at the Canadian Open. In doing so she became the first home champion since Faye Urban defeated fellow Canadian Vicki Berner half a century earlier. But the best was yet to come.
In the 2019 US Open, Andreescu won the tournament, defeating no less a figure than Serena Williams in the final match, winning in straight sets. In doing so, she became the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament, and became the first tennis player to be awarded the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's top athlete.
The Great One - Wayne Gretzky
The Great One is either the nickname of a sporting legend, or an epithet steeped in mockery. In Wayne Gretzky's case, it's very much the former. Some even consider him to be the greatest hockey player that the NHL has ever seen.
That may have seemed improbable in his youth, as Gretzky was not as tall or strong as his peers. But skill trumps stature, and he competed well above the level of his age group and in the 1978 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships was the leading scorer.
Sports fans are often stats geeks too, and on that Gretzky scores very highly thanks to the multiple records this well known Canadian champion holds. He's scored more goals than any other player in NHL history, and scored more points than any other player too. Not only that, Gretzky's made more assists than anyone else, putting together a collection of all time records that's impressive across the board.
He was in the NHL for two decades, and during a fifth of that time he scored more than 200 points in a season. No other player in NHL history, at the time of writing, has achieved that once, let alone four times. In half the seasons he played Gretzky won the Art Ross Trophy for most points, and a brace of Conn Smythe Trophies for being the playoff MVP.
Between 1983 and 1988 Gretzky, as captain, led the Edmonton Oilers to a quartet of Stanley Cup victories. Barely a moment passed between his retirement in 1999 and entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the normal waiting period being done away with for this most excellent and well known of Canadian champions.
That just about covers some of the most well-known Canadian champions, some of whom are now retired and others who are still going and racking up more success. Perhaps you can also take a guess at which provinces have the most athletic people. From the football pitch to the ski slopes, the poker table to the ice, Canada's had a lot to celebrate in a wide variety of arenas in recent years.