Celebrating Black Excellence in Sport
Crystal Emmanuel - Athletics
by Aaron Sanders
As a decorated athlete, record breaker, Olympian and a role model for future female athletes, Crystal Emmanuel is a great candidate for one of Canada’s greatest female athletes. When she wears the maple leaf, she thinks of two things - confidence and conquer. That also translates to empowerment and positivity off the track. With a third trip to the Olympics on the way, let’s have a look at Crystal’s life up to this point.
Crystal was born in Scarborough, Ontario, but was raised in Barbados. She was part of a family with athletic history in their background. Her father was a bodybuilder and her mother represented Barbados in track and field in the 1980s. Crystal’s competitive spirit in the sport started shaping up when she was six years old, thanks to her mom and others.
“Being disciplined, being able to focus on track and having my mom being my inspiration, because she did track in Barbados,” Emmanuel said. “Being in track in Barbados was fun. Playing with my friends and challenging them.”
Crystal’s first chance to represent the nation came at the 2009 Pan American Junior Games. She placed fourth in the 100m dash but was disqualified in the 4x100m relay race. A year later, she was in the IAAF (now named World Athletes) Junior World Championships. She competed in the 200m race, the 4x100m relay and finished eleventh and sixth place, respectively. She appeared in four more World Championships between 2013 and 2017.
After sitting out for nearly a year because of an injury, Emmanuel ran the 100m dash and won the bronze medal at the 2012 NACAC U23 Championships. But her international journey did not stop there that year. Her next stop, the Olympics.
She is also a two-time Olympian and participated in the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Games. In her first Olympic Games, she placed seventh in the semi-final round of the 200m dash. Crystal said learned to maintain focus following her first Olympic Games.
“I had some doubts because I went out there, excited and had my ‘wow’ moment at the 200m dash,” said Emmanuel. “What I took away from 2012 was I can’t doubt myself at the wrong time. I need to focus on the plan that I set for myself.”
The 2016 Games had her compete in three events: the 100m dash, the 200m dash and the 4x100m relay race. Her best finish that year was making the semi-finals at the 4x100m relay race. Emmanuel said the Rio Games was her redo and this time, she experienced something else than a ‘wow’ moment back in 2012.
“I didn’t make the final, but I had a good semi-final and was happy with my outcome at Rio,” Emmanuel said. “What I took away from the 2016 Games going into 2020 is that now it’s my ‘go’ moment.”
In the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, Crystal and her Team Canada mates, Kim Hyacinthe, Isatu Fofanah and Khamica Bingham, finished in sixth place in the 4x100m relay race. However, the team ran for 42.85 seconds - setting a new, and current, Canadian Women’s record in the relay race.
“It was amazing because we had four girls that were ready to execute on the track and we came together as a team,” said Emmanuel. “It was really exciting to be in the record books and show the world that we’re out here and we can execute when we need to.”
Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images
Emmanuel felt at home when she was a part of the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games. Aside from a 10th place finish in the 100m race, she was able to show the nation that she can represent the maple leaf well once again. With her and Team Canada ending up in third place in the 4x100m relay race, she captured the bronze medal.
“It was a great feeling because it was on home soil,” Emmanuel said. “We got to show the Canadian community and track and field family that we were out here to be great and give everyone a show. To be able to show the bronze medal to younger athletes that we did it on our home soil and to be confident in themselves.”
In 2017, Emmanuel had some setbacks, but she ended up powering through and had a landmark year. She added more medals to her resumè when she won gold medals in both the 100m and 200m events in the National Championships. Not only that, put herself in the Canadian record book once again at the Cork City Sports meet in Ireland. She set the new 200m record when she ran 22.5 seconds. That broke the previous record Marita Payne-Wiggins (mother of NBA star Andrew Wiggins) set of 22.62 seconds back in 1983.
“I had a good run and executed well,” said Emmanuel. “I looked at the board and saw 22.51 (seconds) and then it said 22.50. My coach was yelling ‘You broke the record!’ I shook my head ‘no’, and then I thought about it, I was like ‘oh my gosh, yes I did!’ It was the most comfortable and relaxing race that I ever ran. My coach has said many times the one race that doesn’t feel the fastest will end up being the fastest race. I broke the record and I didn’t even know because I was so comfortable and ready.”
The accolades kept on coming to Crystal when she medaled in the 2018 NACAC Championships. She won bronze in the 100m dash and the 4x100m relay race and silver in the 200m dash.
Photo: Canadian Olympic Committee
Crystal was a part of the National Team once again at the Pan American Games in 2019 in Lima, Peru. She and Team Canada found themselves in the final round of the Women’s 4x100m relay race. The final race had Canada run for 43.37 seconds - their best time of the season. However, they ended up winning the silver medal after placing 0.33 seconds behind the gold medal winning Women’s Brazillian National Team. It also meant that the Women’s National Team were on their way to the 2020 Tokyo Games, Crystal’s third Olympics.
Throughout this pandemic, Emmanuel has been very vocal on positivity. She has been posting uplifting messages to offer support for women on social media.
“Giving someone positive thoughts can get someone through a tough time, even though you’re not physically there,” Emmanuel said. “A lot of people may not have a support system like I do or someone else. I know a lot of people are on their phones, [watching] TV or social media. Just being positive for someone to catch on to if they’re having a bad day gives me motivation to do what I do. You still have someone who can make you feel positive.”
Along with positivity, Crystal said that diversity is another key in the world of sports.
“It doesn’t matter [what race you are],” said Emmanuel. “We can have fun, cheer each other on and be happy for one another that we’re doing great things and showing the world we can come together, compete and still come out victorious.”
Photo: Canadian Olympic Committee
Emmanuel reflected on the confidence she has gained in her track and field career.
“Being confident, getting over obstacles that I never thought I would get over because I’m stronger than I thought I was,” said Emmanuel. “To see myself in a different light each year and being able to hop over obstacles that I thought were going to be tough. I never gave up on them and I set my goals high - big or small, win, lose or draw. I was still happy with myself. I was always learning.”
How does Crystal want to be remembered for when she decides to end her career? It’s simple.
“I want to be remembered as the fastest woman in Canadian history in a long time and also be empowering for young women and girls in sport,” Emmanuel said.
The next step for Crystal Emmanuel is the 2020 Olympics and her eyes are set on becoming the first female to make all three finals in track and field - the 100m dash, 200m dash and the 4x100m relay race.
Aaron Sanders is a journalist and broadcaster for the Windsor Express Basketball team in the National Basketball League (NBL) of Canada and for St. Clair College Saints athletics. He is also Content Creator for NBL of Canada. Aaron is also the public address announcer for University Athletics including, University of Windsor Lancers athletics, and Essex Ravens football.