A lot of people wonder about Nora Young and the Olympics. Did this female elite athlete and pioneer ever get the chance to go when she was in her prime (1930s and 1940s)?

Sadly, she never did. Why? Well, for most of the sports she was prominent in, Olympic events for women simply did not exist back then. Check it out:

  • Cycling: Added as a women’s event only in 1984 (!). Nora was a Canadian national cycling champion (1/4-mile road time trial winner and record-holder) in the 1930s - she was 50 years ahead of her time!
  • Hockey: Became an Olympic sport for women in 1998. Nora was among the top players in her time; in 1939, her team was invited by New York’s Madison Square Garden to put on demonstrations of the sport all across the United States, because they were playing at such an elite level.
  • Basketball: Women competed in basketball at the Olympics starting in 1976.  Nora was on the team (the Montgomery Maids) that won the Canadian women’s basketball championship in 1948.
  • Softball: Fast pitch softball was added to the Olympic roster for both women and men in 1996 (and dropped again in 2012). Nora was a star player at Sunnyside in the 1920s-40s, reportedly among the best female softball players of that time.

The only sport that Nora could have gone to the Olympics for was javelin (which became a women’s event in 1932). She won a national championship in Javelin as well, in 1948, which would have qualified her as an Olympian, but for some reason she didn’t go to a subsequent Olympics. We never got a chance to ask her why, but suspect Nora couldn’t afford to travel to the Games – back then there was much less material support for Olympic athletes in general, and female athletes in particular. 

If there had been Winter Olympics hockey competition for women in her day, Nora would have been a member of the Canadian national hockey team. In javelin I would say she was also an Olympic-level athlete. If women’s cycling had been on the Olympic agenda in her day she would have been a natural.
— William Humber, author and sports historian

The good news is that gender equity at the Olympics is getting there: Since 1991, any new sport that has been put forward for consideration to the Olympic program has had to feature both women’s and men’s events. Another bit of good news?  Nora of course enjoyed an extensive and phenomenally successful career as a Master’s (Seniors) Olympian in the 1980s and 1990s (in her 60s to 80s!). She was a multi- medal and -record holder at these events for elite senior athletes, in Canada, the United States, and even in Australia.

And a last word from Nora on this. The late CBC radio journalist Stuart McLean once asked Nora in an interview if she thought she would have been good enough to make the Olympics in cycling. Here’s what transpired.

Nora Young: “I think I could have made the Olympics. If they’d had Olympic racing for women. I think I could have done that.”

McLean: “You wish you could have done that?”

Nora: “I would have liked to have done it. Yeah, I think it’s great!”