Maybe Sami Jo Small knew all along she would become an Olympic champion one day.
Small, 37, grew up in St. Vital and, following a massively successful high school sports career at Collège Jeanne-Sauvé, and then Stanford University, went on to become a two-time Olympic gold medallist (Salt Lake City in 2002 and Turin in 2006), and five-time world champion with the Canadian women’s hockey team — to name a few of her sporting achievements.
To honour Small’s high school accomplishments, she is among the recently-announced inductees in the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association’s High School Hall of Fame Class of 2014.
The 1994 MHSAA Female Athlete of the Year still holds the varsity girls record in discus (44.98 metres) and javelin (44.80 metres) from that year.
"It’s certainly an honour," said Small, who was speaking to The Lance from her home in Toronto. "When I think back, it doesn’t seem that long ago."
It was back in the early ’90s, when CJS was a new French immersion school, when the gold-medal winning goaltender entered a contest at the school to think of a new sporting mascot. Small came up with the Jeanne-Sauvé Olympiens, which became the chosen name for generations of sports teams at the Dakota Street-based school.
"It was a brand-new school and my entry was voted the winner, so it feels like I’ve come full circle," Small said with a laugh. "My love of sport started as a young kid, when we would make pretend hurdles and podiums. The Olympic Games captivated me as a young girl and I knew I always wanted to be there."
Because there was no female hockey program at that time, Small played on the ice with the guys, but her sporting pursuits ranged from volleyball, badminton, javelin, shot put and discus.
"I also played water polo and handball, but there were no high school associations for these sports. By Grade 11, I had started to excel in track and field, especially javelin and discus, and I was getting more success at the international level, but that by no means takes away from the other sports," Small said.
"It wasn’t a huge school, but we happened to have some great coaches. Great things can happen when great coaches and a great set of girls come together. The most important thing is that I’ve stayed in touch with many of these girls and we’re still really close."
Small still plays hockey for the Toronto Furies in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and is also full-time professional speaker. She also remains strongly connected to her roots, as she returns to Winnipeg every summer to run the Sami Jo Small Hockey School out of Gateway Recreation Centre.
Reflecting on her Olympic memories while enjoying the current games in Sochi, Small said they were unforgettable experiences.
"It’s an amazing couple of weeks. Winning is incredibly special, but the main thing is the people I’ve met along the way," she said.
Another local sporting figure from southeast Winnipeg set to be officially inducted this year is Ted Stoesz, who enjoyed a distinguished sporting career at Dakota Collegiate in the mid-1960s, excelling in volleyball and basketball.
The MHSAA induction will take place on Sat., May 10 at Holiday Inn Winnipeg South (1330 Pembina Hwy.). For ticket information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 204-925-5640.