Ethel Catherwood

Biographical information

RolesCompeted in Olympic Games
Full nameEthel Hannah•Catherwood (-McLaren, -Mitchell)
Used nameEthel•Catherwood
Nick/petnamesThe Saskatoon Lily
Born28 April 1908 in Hannah, North Dakota (USA)
Died26 September 1987 in Grass Valley, California (USA)
Measurements178 cm / 58 kg
AffiliationsParkdale Ladies' AC, Toronto (CAN)
NOC Canada
Medals OG
Gold 1
Silver 0
Bronze 0
Total 1


Ethel Catherwood became the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic gold medal when she won the high jump at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. Catherwood first became known in Canadian athletics in July 1926 when she cleared what was then a national record 1.51 (4-11½) at a meet in her native Saskatoon. In September 1926, at the Saskatchewan Championships in Regina, Catherwood cleared 1.585 (5-2 7/16) to claim her first world high jump record.

In 1927, Catherwood competed in her first Canadian AAU Championship. There she won the high jump with a mark of 5-2, and also won the javelin throw. In 1928, she repeated her Canadian titles in both events, held in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her javelin mark of 118-8 at Halifax set a new Canadian record, but her winning high jump of 1.60 (5-3) produced her second world record.

Prior to the Amsterdam Olympics, Catherwood lost her world record to the Dutchwoman, Lien Gisolf, who cleared 1.605 in Maastricht on 18 July. Gisolf and Catherwood were co-favorites for the Olympic high jump that was held on 5 August 1928. Gisolf was the crowd favorite, competing in her native country, but Catherwood was the media darling. Because of her beauty, they christened her The Saskatoon Lily, and she was the most photographed female athlete in Amsterdam. Pushed by both Gisolf and America’s Mildred Wiley, Catherwood did not win easily. But when the bar was raised to 1.59 (5-2½), only Catherwood was successful, winning the gold medal. Unfortunately for Catherwood, in 1928 the javelin throw was not contested at the Olympic Games. After the Olympics, Catherwood briefly toured Europe before returning to a tumultuous parade in Canada. She was presented with a $3,000 gift as an educational trust fund. She dispelled rumors that she was turning to Hollywood by allegedly stating, “I’d rather gulp poison than try my hand at motion pictures.”

Apocryphal stories abound about Catherwood’s life after Amsterdam. It is said that she never competed again. It has also been written that she married the 1924 men’s Olympic high jump and decathlon champion, Harold Osborn. Neither story is true.

In fact, Ethel Catherwood continued to compete in track & field athletics after the 1928 Olympics. She did not compete at the 1929 Canadian AAU Championships, but her high jump mark of 5-2 in Saskatoon on 15 July 1929 led the Canadian list for the year. In 1930, she again won the Canadian title in both the high jump and javelin throw. In 1931, Catherwood repeated her javelin title at the Canadian Championships, held in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. But she finished 3rd in the high jump in Wetaskiwin, hampered by a series of injuries, after which she retired from athletics.

In 1929, Catherwood had secretly married James McLaren. But the marriage did not last, their divorce in Reno occurring in July 1932. With her sister, Ethel Catherwood moved to San Francisco, where she married Byron Mitchell only a few months after her divorce. In her later years she was highly secretive and enigmatic and refused to talk about the Olympic Games or her track & field career.

Personal Bests: HJ – 1.60 (1928); JT – 36.17 (1927).


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1928 Summer Olympics Athletics CAN Ethel Catherwood
High Jump, Women (Olympic) 1 Gold
Discus Throw, Women (Olympic) DNS


Date of birth seen as 2 May 1910 in some sources.