By Keaton Hills
Samantha Cornett had played the first two sets in her opening match of the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games women’s squash competition when someone whispered to her that International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach was in the crowd watching. Cornett responded by promptly whipping her opponent 11-0 the next set.
“He can come back and watch my games any time,” joked Cornett, who was given an Olympic pin by Bach after the match. “I said, ‘I hope I can wear this in 2020.’”
While the hope of squash being included in the Tokyo Olympics didn’t come to fruition for the Ottawa-raised player, Cornett’s long-held dream of seeing squash on the Olympic programme at last became a reality on Oct. 16. That’s when the IOC announced squash would be one of the new sports added to the L.A. 2028 Games alongside baseball/softball, flag football, cricket and lacrosse.
Cornett, who won the last of her four Canadian titles in 2019, retired from full-time professional play in 2020, although she did beat fellow Ottawa player Iman Shaheen to reach the quarter-finals of the 2022 Canadian Championships.
Most of her days are now spent working as Squash Canada’s manager of athlete development, but Cornett isn’t ruling out the possibility of taking a run at making the 2028 Olympics when she’ll be 37.
“I imagine it’s the time for the next generation, but it’s on my radar,” highlights the athlete who achieved a career-best world ranking of #23 in 2018. “I’m testing my body to see if there’s any chance.”
Cornett won the middle three of her eight career Pan Am Games medals at Toronto 2015 and remembers it was “very, very special” to have the IOC president watch her play there.
“I would like to think it’s one of many small steps that showed what our sport is, and let people see our fans, and see what the atmosphere is like at a squash event, at a major games,” reflects the Queensview Goodlife product who also represented Canada at three Commonwealth Games.
Cornett recounts that the squash community had “mini-celebrations” after squash moved through each step of the process to be added to the Olympics. Then once the final decision was announced, the community was overjoyed.
The West Carleton Secondary School graduate says that one factor that helped squash get the green light was to give athletes from countries like Malaysia and Egypt, who do not usually win many medals at the Olympics, a chance to contend for the podium. The top three women’s players in the world rankings are all from Egypt, along with half of the top-10 men.
Cornett is also pleased that Olympic inclusion could mean more funding for athlete development at Squash Canada, which would allow them to put an increased emphasis on players between age 13-17 over the next five years leading up to 2028. She also hopes that squash being in the Olympics will attract new players.
Many people will be getting introduced to squash for the first time when watching the Olympics on TV in 2028, explains Cornett, who believes new viewers will be surprised by the athleticism and stamina required for the sport.
“I know we’re going to have a ton of the steadfast squash fans that will be following along, but I think we’ll capture the hearts of a bunch of new kids, hopefully, and new squash fans,” Cornett indicates.
HELP SHINE A LIGHT ON LOCAL SPORT! The Ottawa Sports Pages has proudly provided a voice for local sport for over 10 years, but we need your help to continue another 10 and beyond. Please donate to the Ottawa Sports Pages Fund today.