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HomeSportsSoccerBroken droughts, smashed barriers and shattered records: A look back at the...

Broken droughts, smashed barriers and shattered records: A look back at the year in sports

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A 72-foot putt for eagle. A new home for women’s hockey. A rousing farewell to a legend.

Those are just some of the moments that defined sports in 2023 — a year of broken droughts, smashed barriers and shattered records.

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo takes you through the year’s marquee moments:

CBC Sports’ 2023 Year In Review: A sport-by-sport breakdown

Join CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo, as he takes you through the biggest stories in Canadian sports over the last year.

Here’s a look at the stories we’ll remember:

The PWHL unites women’s hockey

In a year that featured Connor McDavid completing a 154-point season, the Vegas Golden Knights winning the Stanley Cup in just their fifth year and the Maple Leafs even making the second round, the biggest hockey story came off the ice.

It was a sudden announcement in June: a business group led by Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter and Billie Jean King had bought out the Premier Hockey Federation with plans to fold the league and create a new one including the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association, a group that includes most of the top women’s hockey players. The new outfit would be called the Professional Women’s Hockey League, with three teams in Canada and three in the U.S.

Since then, the news has come fast and furious as the league storms toward its Jan. 1 start. There was a frenzied free agency period followed by the inaugural draft at CBC in September and training camps not long after.

Now, the likes of Marie-Philip Poulin (Montreal) and Hilary Knight (Boston) finally have professional homes. And for the first time in a long time, the conversation around women’s hockey will centre around wins and losses. Let the games begin.

WATCH | Billie Jean King discusses inaugural draft:

‘We want a proper professional hockey league for women’: Billie Jean King

Tennis icon, women’s rights advocate and PWHL board member reacts to the the first-ever PWHL draft.

Nick Taylor ends 69 years of waiting

You might remember the miraculous putt. You may recall the chaotic scene in Toronto, with rain pouring down on rowdy Canadian golf fans. Surely you can envision the security guard’s tackle of Adam Hadwin that put an exclamation mark on a wild Canadian Open back in June.

I’m here to remind you that the absurdity didn’t end there.

The week at Oakdale Golf & Country Club began under clouds both literal and figurative. As wildfire smoke covered the Toronto skies and pushed the air quality to near-dangerous levels, a Tuesday announcement stunned the golf world: the PGA Tour reached a framework agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which controls the rival LIV Golf League. It seemed, after more than a year of public quibbling, the tours would merge. Players, many of whom had turned down millions from LIV only to see the PGA Tour grab that same oil-soaked money, were stunned.

It all could have overshadowed the actual golf. Somehow, though, the competition became even more fascinating. A playoff-hockey style overtime on Sunday came down to Nick Taylor — the B.C. native vying to become the first Canadian man to win at home since 1954 — and Tommy Fleetwood, the long-established Brit somehow still searching for his first PGA Tour victory.

As the rain began to pour, Taylor and Fleetwood battled for four playoff holes in front of a crowd firmly in the Canadian’s favour. Finally, back on the 18th, Taylor’s ball stood 72 feet from the hole — the type of look that typically brings a three-putt into play. Instead, Taylor sank the putt for eagle to win the tournament, then proceeded to flip his putter in celebration à la Jose Bautista. Fellow Canadian Adam Hadwin stormed the green with champagne — only to go unrecognized and end up flat on his back thanks to an unwitting security guard. In the end, Hadwin was fine, with the mishap only serving to cap a scene that should live on in Canadian golf lore forever.

WATCH | Taylor wins Canadian Open with long eagle putt:

Nick Taylor makes 72-foot eagle putt to win RBC Canadian Open

Taylor nailed the longest putt of his career to clinch the tournament on the fourth playoff hole.

Sinclair says so long

It was a rocky season for Canada’s women’s soccer team, including a boycott threat and parliamentary hearings amid a strife over pay equality with the national federation. In the summer, yet another World Cup run came to a screeching halt as Canada failed to advance past the group stage.

But the Canadians should at least be able to bring positive vibes into 2024. In September, Canada won a two-game aggregate series 4-1 over Jamaica to officially book its title defence at the Paris Olympics. And with that, Christine Sinclair — soccer’s all-time international goal-scoring leader — decided her watch over the national team was complete.

Sinclair earned her final two caps for Canada in her home province of B.C. earlier in December. She’ll play one more season with the NWSL’s Portland Thorns — though if it was up to Ryan Reynolds, she may be moving on to Wales’ Wrexham AFC instead. But the 39-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., received the send-off she deserved, complete with a standing ovation and various celebrations, to cap an illustrious career that included Olympic gold and two bronze.

And while Sinclair will no longer be on the field, her impact in taking Canada from an also-ran to a constant contender should be felt for decades to come.

WATCH | Sinclair sits down with CBC Sports to talk about record-setting career:

Christine Sinclair reflects on record-breaking career

The all-time international goal scorer sits down with CBC Sports’ Andi Petrillo ahead of her final two matches in a Canada jersey.

Canada’s men’s basketball team finally breaks through

From Vince Carter’s iconic dunk contest in 2000 through the Raptors’ 2019 championship, the popularity of basketball in Canada grew exponentially as more and more players began to filter up into the NBA. But that the success never seemed to translate onto the international stage — until last summer, that is.

At the World Cup, Canada bore witness to the emergence of its biggest star since Steve Nash in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Fresh off an all-NBA selection last season, the Hamilton, Ont., native put the Canadian team on his back, leading a win over Spain to clinch the men’s first Olympic berth since 2000 and another upset of the U.S. in the third-place game as Canada won its first-ever medal at the competition.

SGA would go on to win the Northern Star Award as Canada’s top athlete of 2023, but he wasn’t the only Canadian basketball player to impress. Jamal Murray was the second-best player on the championship-winning Denver Nuggets; Aaliyah Edwards asserted herself as a key player for UConn and potential first-round WNBA pick next spring; the national women’s team earned its spot in February’s Olympic qualifying tournament and the U-19 women’s team earned its second-ever medal with bronze at worlds.

Next year — with four potential Olympics medals in the men’s and women’s traditional and 3×3 teams — could be even bigger.

WATCH | Canadian men’s team sets sights on Olympic podium:

Can the Canadian Men’s basketball team medal at the Paris Olympics? | CBC Sports

The Canadian Men’s basketball team had a historic run at the FIBA World Cup, winning their first-ever medal, but can this team replicate the same success at the Paris Olympics in 2024?

Summer sets the bar

Starting with the 2021 Olympics and through worlds the following year, Summer McIntosh has slowly revealed herself as Canada’s — and perhaps the world’s — next great swimmer. She took the natural next step in 2023.

At the Canadian swimming trials in March, the 17-year-old set both the 400-metre freestyle and individual medley world records, becoming the first person to ever hold those two marks at once. The feat not only put her competition on notice, but it helped McIntosh introduce herself to Canada just one year ahead of the Paris Olympics, where she seems destined for stardom.

The display of dominance also set the stage for a highly anticipated 400 freestyle showdown against American Katie Ledecky and Australia’s Ariarne Titmus to kick off July’s world championships. The result was a double-disappointment for McIntosh, who missed the medals in fourth and saw Titmus take her record. But the race also revealed some of the Canadian’s character and McIntosh rebounded to leave the meet with four medals, including golds in the 400 individual medley and 200 butterfly.

All that success might let Canadian imaginations run wild with how much hardware McIntosh may procure next summer in Paris.

WATCH | McIntosh wins gold in 200 butterfly:

Gold for Canada’s Summer McIntosh, also breaks 200m butterfly world junior record

Summer McIntosh of Toronto captured the gold medal in the 200m Butterfly final setting a new Junior World Record with the time of 2:04.06.

Canada is now a throwing country

That was the popular refrain coming out of the athletics world championships in August, when Ethan Katzberg and Camryn Rogers each won hammer-throw gold while Sarah Mitton scored shot-put silver. Canada had never won a throwing world championship prior to 2023 — suddenly, it is home to both gold medallists.

Meanwhile, Olympic champion Damian Warner came into worlds looking to make up for the year prior when he was forced to withdraw with injury while leading the competition. This time, he stayed healthy and earned silver — only behind fellow Canadian Pierce LePage, setting up a fascinating friendly rivalry for Paris.

And if the sprinters — Andre De Grasse, Aaron Brown and the like — can get up to speed after a slow season by their standards, Canada should be on track for plenty of Olympic athletics medals.

WATCH | Rogers captures hammer-throw world title:

B.C.’s Camryn Rogers captures hammer throw gold at worlds

Camryn Rogers of Richmond, B.C., win’s the women’s hammer throw at the World Athletics Championships with a distance of 77.22 metres. Rogers’ victory completed Canada’s first-ever hammer-throw double after fellow B.C. native Ethan Katzberg won the men’s event.

And for that reason… the Jays are out

After Blue Jays fans spent an entire Friday in December tracking a private jet, leaning on sushi tips from opera singers and reading Dodgers blog reports saying two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani would sign in Toronto, it was a major letdown when Canadian businessman and Shark Tank personality Robert Herjavec stepped off that plane at Pearson. The next day, Ohtani signed in Los Angeles.

The saga was just a capper to a year of disappointment for Blue Jays fans, whose on-field campaign ended with yet another sweep in the wild-card series as manager John Schneider pulled Jose Berrios in the fourth inning of a shutout. Fellow starter Yusei Kikuchi entered the game and immediately allowed two runs — the difference in a 2-0 loss to Minnesota.

Adding insult to injury, former Blue Jay Marcus Semien led the Texas Rangers to their first-ever World Series title just weeks later.

WATCH | Ohtani spurns Jays for Dodgers:

Toronto wanted Shohei Ohtani. It got Shark Tank instead | About That

Blue Jays fans had their dreams dashed after learning free agent Shohei Ohtani signed a historic $700-million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Andrew Chang gives a moment-by-moment breakdown of the mad speculation and confusion that led up to Toronto’s disappointment, and how a judge on Shark Tank and Dragons’ Den found himself in the middle of it all.

The queens of tennis

For about a week in November, Canada became home to both the men’s and women’s tennis world champions. After the men earned their first Davis Cup title last year, the women followed suit by winning the Billie Jean King Cup — just days before the men’s championship defence fell short.

Canada’s women’s team was powered by Leylah Fernandez, the 35th-ranked player who won each of her four singles matches. Unexpectedly, world No. 273 Marina Stakusic also played a key role, winning three of her four matches and often setting the table for Fernandez to close out ties before potential decisive doubles matches.

And though Canadian singles players didn’t find much success at the year’s majors, Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski and Erin Routliffe, who grew up in Ontario but represents New Zealand, paired to claim Canada’s first Grand Slam women’s doubles title at the U.S. Open.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic won three of four men’s major titles to overtake Rafael Nadal and tie Margaret Court atop the all-time standings with 24 championships. He could stand alone as soon as January’s Australian Open.

WATCH | Fernandez clinches BJK Cup title for Canada:

Leylah Fernandez clinches Canada’s 1st Billie Jean King Cup championship

The Laval, Que. native defeated Italy’s Jasmine Paolini in straight sets (6-2, 6-3) to propel Canada to a 2-0 series win and their 1st-ever Billie Jean King Cup title.

Canadian skiers take over the world

It might have been the most unlikely title of the year when Canada’s Alexandria Loutitt won the large hill event last March at the ski jumping worlds. Consider that Loutitt, 19, had only won her first World Cup event two months prior and was still of age to compete in (and win) the world juniors. Not only that, but Canada doesn’t even have a proper ski jump hill, meaning Loutitt is forced to train with her Canadian teammates in Slovenia — where, it just so happens, worlds were located.

Another challenger for the fake honour of unlikeliest world champion is alpine skier Laurence St-Germain. In a World Cup season dominated by talk of Mikaela Shiffrin’s eventual record-breaking 87th victory on the circuit, St-Germain stunned the American in her best discipline, the slalom, to earn Canada’s first title in the event since 1960.

The Quebec native’s feat came on the heels of fellow Canadian Jack Crawford asserting his contender status on the world stage with a gold medal of his own in the men’s super-G. Canadians also walked away from those worlds with a pair of bronze medals courtesy of Cameron Alexander (men’s downhill) and the mixed-team parallel event, led by brothers Jeffrey and Erik Read. Valerie Grenier, another member of that team, claimed her first-ever World Cup title in a giant slalom in Slovenia earlier in the year.

It all added up to the most successful Canadian skiing season in years.

WATCH | St-Germain stuns Shiffrin for slalom gold:

Canadian Laurence St-Germain edges Shiffrin for slalom gold at worlds

St-Germain beat American Mikaela Shiffrin by 0.57 seconds to top the podium at the alpine world ski championships.

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