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Vivek is a sports writer from Toronto.
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After a tense and gruelling 120 minutes of action followed by several missed penalties in the shootout, Vancouver’s Julia Grosso stared down both the ball placed on the penalty spot and the opportunity to win her country its first-ever Olympic gold medal in soccer. The Canadian women had huffed and puffed their way past Brazil and USA, and were on the verge of blowing the house down against Sweden. Grosso struck it with her left to goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl’s right and despite getting a palm on the shot, it wasn’t enough to deny the red and white a gold medal. In sporting terms, Aug. 6 was the perfect trinity: Canada. Olympics. Women.
The Olympics brings a unique level of fandom from Canadians and it’s been proven time and time again that women have led the way. For those two weeks in Tokyo, the conversations on Twitter didn’t reach their peak for Andre De Grasse’s 200m final or Damian Warner winning the decathlon, but instead for the Christine Sinclair-led women’s soccer team.
“Canada kinda remembers every two years, ‘Oh wow, our Olympic success is really built on the back of our women’s teams,’” Conor Clarance, Twitter Canada’s head of sports, said. “The Olympic conversation is so driven by women and that’s truly a phenomenal thing.”
It was a special year for Canada in sports in 2021, and a big Twitter trend that continues to emerge is the variety of sports—beyond hockey—that were sparking engagement. There’s the expected Olympic benefit with Penny Oleksiak and Maggie Mac Neil bringing eyes to swimming while De Grasse and Warner did their thing on the track. Beyond that two-week window, the men’s national soccer team joined in on the women’s fun with a captivating World Cup qualifying campaign led by Alphonso Davies and highlighted by his phenomenal goal at BMO field and later the iconic snowbank celebration at the Iceteca in Edmonton. Leylah Fernandez’s U.S. Open run all the way to the final—while the men weren’t too far behind with Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime reaching the semifinals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, respectively—showed tennis is surging forward. And then there’s still room for the NBA and the NFL.
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“We’ve definitely seen tennis, swimming, and soccer on the women’s side grow and grow and grow,” Clarance said. “What we’re seeing on the men’s side is, what used to be this very hockey-driven list and now arguably the greatest hockey player on the planet is the fifth-most mentioned and he’s following two basketball players, a Canadian soccer player that plays the bulk of his soccer in Germany and then Chase Claypool who plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The sports we’re supporting on Twitter are seemingly a little bit different than the traditional sports you expect, and that’s a good thing.”
On a team level, seven of the top 10 account mentions came from the NHL, but the Raptors held the top spot despite a season away in Tampa. It speaks to the established brand that is Raptors Twitter and of course all that went into making a return to Toronto possible. The game against the Denver Nuggets on March 24 was one of the most talked about all season and it represented the first-ever all-women broadcast for the team featuring Kia Nurse, Meghan McPeak, Kayla Grey, Kate Beirness, and Amy Audibert, while also possibly being Kyle Lowry’s final game for Toronto. There have been more conversations surrounding the PHF and WNBA, with Drake sparking even more chatter by echoing a lot of people’s online sentiments to have Toronto’s own team in the latter league.
The sports landscape of Canada is slowly but steadily changing right before our eyes. Yes, hockey is still number one and will be for the foreseeable future, but as stars have emerged in an array of other sports and got Canadian sports fans invested in their success, the diversity in what Canadian athletes are recognized for is being matched by the conversations on Twitter.
With another Olympics on the horizon in February and Canadians competing for the biggest trophies across several sports in 2022, the trend of Canada going global with its sporting accomplishments is only set to go even more viral.
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