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Over the years, there's been no shortage of Manitoba women who have gone on to compete at the highest level in their sport. Some of them even went on to become Olympic and world champions.
On Friday, the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame paid tribute to those women with the unveiling of its newest exhibit — Women in Sport: Celebrating Manitoba Women Past, Present and Future. Fittingly, the opening was held on International Women's Day.
And more fittingly, there were more than a dozen female hall of famers in attendance who got a first look at the new exhibit.
They included Susan Auch, a three-time Olympic speedskating medallist, Wanda Guenette, a member of Canada's national volleyball team at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, and Connie Laliberte, a former curling world champion and three-time winner of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
"I think these exhibits are super important, for sure," said Auch, now the CEO for Speed Skating Canada. "I'm honoured to be a part of it. I get to bring my kids here and they get to look at me being something more than their mom. But I think what this exhibit does is it allows the next generation to dream. To know that someone before them, from their own town, did it too. I think these exhibits need to be inspirational and they are to me. But it's even more important for them to be inspirational to the next generation."
The exhibit includes memorabilia from Cindy Klassen's pre-Olympic days, artifacts from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League of the 40s and 50s, Clara Hughes' entire Olympic medal collection (which is on public display for the first time), and much more. Klassen and Hughes dominated Olympic speedskating in their prime, while Hughes also won two Olympic bronze medals in cycling.
For Michelle Sawatzky-Koop, who was a part of a panel discussion on Friday with her '96 Olympic Games volleyball teammate Guenette, and Auch, the exhibit just makes sense when you look at Manitoba's sports history.
"You hear about the medallists in Manitoba and those that have had the big hauls at Olympics and a lot of them are women," said Sawatzky-Koop, who's also a three-time national volleyball champion with the Manitoba Bisons.
"The names we recognize, you hardly have to say Cindy Klassen's last name or Clara Hughes', and that kind of thing. To have this dedicated to women, and to see some of their medals again, I think it's a huge step for women and I think it's great for the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame to say, 'We have this many women in Manitoba to celebrate that we need to have a special exhibit for it.'" I'm really proud of the hall of fame for doing that and I think it's super exciting."
From curling's Laliberte to Jennifer Jones, from speedskating's Doreen Botterill to Klassen, and today's generation of local athletes such as Olympic soccer medallist Desiree Scott and Olympic curling champ Kaitlyn Lawes, Manitoba has consistently had star female athletes in competition. Auch doesn't believe it's a coincidence.
"We're a province that really opens the opportunities to girls and women in sport," Auch said. "I really do believe Manitoba is far ahead in social and cultural areas compared to a lot of parts of Canada. I would say that speaks volumes to girls thinking they can do anything that anyone else can."
To keep the trend of great local female athletes going, Sawatzky-Koop hopes young kids check out the exhibit and realize that they can achieve those things, too.
"I hope they see that it wasn't one sport that we're good at in Manitoba," Sawatzky-Koop said.
"It's not one size of woman, it's not the really tall ones or the really small ones, or the really muscular ones, it's women of all shapes and sizes, of all backgrounds, of all races, religions, whatever it is, and they've overcome. Every athlete you're going to see in this exhibit has overcome. They've overcome and persevered, not necessarily being a woman, but whatever it is in their sport. And I hope they see that. I hope they see anything is possible no matter where you come from. It just takes an incredible amount of perseverance and determination."
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The Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and Young Canada Works joined together to collect artifacts ranging from Olympic medals and uniforms, autographed memorabilia, and items from the early stages of famous female athletes that have never been seen before.
The highlight of the exhibit sponsored by Maple Leaf Construction might just be the 12 Olympic and Paralympic medals on display.
It's a perfect way to see how the medals have evolved over the years as the collection spans across 10 different Games.
You can also find several artifacts from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League — a league which featured 12 Manitobans — such as a limited-edition doll. The league was the inspiration for the 1992 classic sports comedy-drama film, A League of Their Own.
There are also cases dedicated to the Wesmen basketball dynasty of the 1990s, Clara Hughes' Olympic cycling and speedskating medals, Olympic medals and attire belonging to Susan Auch, swim gear and medals from Paralympic athlete Kirby Cote, and much more.
Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for teens and seniors, and $2 for children 12 and under.