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Myrtle Cook

Photograph of Myrtle Cook

(1902-1985)

Track and Field

Source


In a tribute to Myrtle Cook written shortly after her death, Cook was described as one of Canada's greatest advocates of women's sport whose life was committed to the advancement of girls and women in sport.

Born in Toronto in 1902, Myrtle Cook had a diverse sporting background excelling in tennis, ice hockey, basketball, bowling, cycling, and canoeing. At age fifteen, Cook was named to the women's national track-and-field team. Cook is best remembered as a member of the 1928 Canadian Olympic women's track-and-field team dubbed by the press "The Matchless Six". During the 1920s, in athletics as in politics, women broke down barriers. In the 1928 Olympics held in Amsterdam, women's track-and-field events were being introduced for the first time on a trial basis. The decision of the Canadian Olympic Committee to send a women's track-and-field team to the 1928 Olympic Games was controversial.

Myrtle Cook had set a world record for 100 metres in the Canadian Olympic trials in Halifax establishing herself as favourite to win the Olympic gold. It was an enormous disappointment when Cook was disqualified in the Olympic event after two false starts. Among the six finalists in the event were two other Canadians - Bobbie Rosenfeld and Jane Bell. However, there was jubilation when Cook ran the last leg of the 4 x 100-metre relay securing a first place finish for the Canadian relay team made up of Cook, Jane Bell, Ethel Smith, and Bobbie Rosenfeld. All told, "The Matchless Six" had the highest standing among the women's track-and-field teams, ahead of the United States and Germany.

The magnitude of the accomplishment and the popularity of the team were reflected in the heroes' welcome they received upon their return to Canada. "The Matchless Six" returned to ticker-tape parades in Toronto and Montreal. The press estimated that 200 000 people jammed Toronto's Union Station and adjacent Front Street and another 100 000 lined the parade route.

Myrtle Cook continued competing as Canadian champion in the 100-metre and 60-yard events until 1931. She was unique at the time having competed internationally for seven years and establishing Canadian, American, and world records.

Myrtle Cook's involvement with sport organizations and women athletes began in 1923 when she helped establish the Toronto Ladies Athletic Club, the first track-and-field club exclusively for women in Canada. Later, Cook was Director of Athletics for Toronto's Canadian Ladies Athletic Club. In Montreal, Myrtle Cook established a branch of the Club, and later formed the Mercury Athletic Club with Hilda Strike, 1932 Olympic 100-metre silver medallist. Cook was active in coaching, raising funds for women's athletics, and advocating for women in sports. She was called upon to coach the Montreal Royals, a professional male baseball team in its base-running techniques. During World War II, Cook was involved in the training of military recruits.

In 1929, Cook began a 40-year career as a sports journalist joining the Montreal Star where her husband, Lloyd McGowan was a sports writer. For many years, Cook wrote a weekly column "In the Women's Sport Light". Cook was inducted into the Laurentian Ski Hall of Fame as a pioneer ski journalist.

Myrtle Cook continued her involvement with international sports throughout her life. She was on almost every British Empire/Commonwealth Games Committee and Olympic Committee from 1932 to 1972. In an interview before her departure to the 1972 Munich Olympics, Cook noted that she had been involved in eleven Olympic Games - first as a competitor, then as coach, manager, and reporter.

Although Myrtle Cook may be most remembered in Canadian sports history as a member of "The Matchless Six" at the 1928 Olympics, her greater contribution was her life-long involvement in the world of women's sport and her advocacy for women athletes.

Resources

Hotchkiss, Ron. - "The Matchless Six": Canadian women at the Olympics, 1928". - . - Vol. 73, no. 5 (October/November 1993). - P. 23-42

Lewis, Pamela. - "Myrtle Cook McGowan : a special tribute". - Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport newsletter. - Vol. 4, no. 1 (Spring 1985). - P. 6-8

McDonald, David. - "Golden Age of women and sport in Canada". - Canadian women's studies. - Vol. 14, no. 4 (Fall 1995). - P. 12-15

Palmason, Diane. - "In memory of Myrtle". - Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport newsletter. - Vol. 4, no. 1 (Spring 1985). - P. 9-10

Patton, Paul. - "Cook led the way for women athletes". - Globe and mail. - March 22, 1985. - P. 23

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