Exclusive: Jordyn Huitema and Canada are ‘pushing for gold’ at Tokyo 2020
Already having had success after success at the senior international level as a teenager, it would have been easy for Jordyn Huitema to get pulled into the hype.
She’s done the opposite.
What the world will see during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021 is the British Columbia native’s outstanding prowess on the pitch, where she’s become a go-to for her national team and a standout player in the UEFA Women’s Champions League with her club, Paris Saint-German.
With Canada having won a bronze medal at both London 2012 and Rio 2016, Huitema will make her Olympic debut with a squad whose motto is to “change the colour of the medal” – from those two consecutive bronzes.
“It's pushing for that gold,” Huitema told Olympics.com of Tokyo. “Because bronze is amazing ... But we're pushing for better. So everything has been revolving around that over the course of the past few months, since Bev (Priestman) has taken over the team.”
Canada has been drawn in a group that features Great Britain, Chile – led by Huitema’s PSG star goalie teammate, Christiane Endler – and host Japan, who the Canadians will face first.
“I think it's going to be insane, because you know that if they are allowing fans, it's going to be packed,” she said. “Yeah, the energy's just going to be amazing. To get the home opener of a of a major tournament like that – it’s very amazing.”
What is also amazing is Huitema’s self-confidence from such a young age. She made her debut for Canada at 16 – months later becoming the team’s youngest-ever goal scorer – and then opted out of going the collegiate route, becoming the first Canadian female to head straight to the pros out of high school.
Jordyn Huitema – Forging her own path
Along with partner Alphonso Davies, who stars for the Bayern Munich men's team – the 2020 Champions League winners – she is part of a dynamic duo that is inspiring a younger generation of football fans in their home country.
“I just try to use my platforms as authentically as I can,” said Huitema, who has over 1.3 million followers on Instagram. (Huitema and Davies have a shared YouTube channel that also features 725,000 followers.) “If I feel passionate about something, I'll post it. ... It's more just me leading by action and example.”
“I've had so many people ask me and DM and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about your decision of going pro out of high school? Do you regret it?’ I try to answer as many as I can, but... I was just trying to show a different path, give different options. It's not the only path for you. [I wanted to] put that mindset [out there] for kids.”
Huitema and Davies have known each other since their early teens, having met through Canadian high-performance football at the youth level around age 15, and each making their way to Europe as professionals.
'Rarely do we ever talk football'
Their friendship is their biggest bond, Huitema said, though she always knows he’s going to defeat her at a game of checkers: “We're both very competitive, it's ridiculous. I know I'm terrible at checkers, but whenever we play, off the bat, I'm like, ‘Why am I even doing this? I know I'm going to lose.’"
What does she know she’ll win at against him?
“Everything else – ever,” she said, laughing. “Everything else.”
Perhaps their biggest complement of one another is having someone so close who can understand what the other is going through.
“I feel like, for professional athletes, I feel like we're just best friends... in a way like we grew up together." - Jordyn Huitema on her relationship with Alphonso Davies
“We know when we're at our lows and we know when we're at our highs. We know how to help the person and what they need in that moment. And I always tell people this and they're always shocked, but I'd say 10 percent of our conversations are about football, barely.
“If you need to vent or if you need to [ask], ‘What do I need to do in this situation?’ And then they'll always be able to support you in that instance. But rarely do we ever talk football.”
Huitema on the Sinclair comparisons – and now, friendship
Another soccer standout who often gets mentioned in the same sentence as Huitema is longtime Canadian star Christine Sinclair, whose 186 international goals and 296 caps over two decades are a most all-time – for men or women.
Huitema is like a sponge around the player her teammates simply know as “Sinc.”
“It's not like she's going around barking at people and being like, ‘You need to do this!’ She'll do it and people will just [follow].”
“[At training] she's the first one in, last one out; always getting it done,” Huitema explained. “And so you see that happening and you know that she's one of the best players in the world. So you do it, too, because you want to be one of the best players in the world.”
Huitema explained how wowed she was by Sinclair as a younger player, watching her first-touch ability in training, as well as the way she moved around the opposing defenders. They have slowly formed a bond that will make them a formidable duo come Tokyo.
“It was definitely cool to be a fan, but then be a teammate. And now I'd like to say we're friends. I don't know, maybe Sinc’s watching this, but I'd say we're friends.” - A light-hearted Jordyn Huitema on her relationship with Christine Sinclair
Investing in women’s sport: ‘You’ll get a result’
Being a part of the Canadian national team as well as with PSG, Huitema is with two sides that have supported their women’s squads with fervor. That’s not the case for all female sport internationally, which Huitema said needs to change culturally.
“My teammates and I always have this conversation: Once you invest in something, you'll get a result. And if you're not investing in something, what do you expect to happen?” she said. “There's even teams right now in women's football that they're professional athletes, they're [getting paid] on a professional contract and they're not making enough money to support themselves. So they have a side job."
"If you're not investing in women to devote themselves to the sport every day, day in and day out, they have to be half-minded because they have another job because they can't afford to live ... [then] what do you expect?" - Jordyn Huitema
“I think the more you put in, the more you're going to get out,” Huitema added. “And I think the more and more broadcast we get of women's football on TV, things like that, streams that you're able to [access]... more people are going to want to watch it. And it just it comes down to the matter of if people are willing to invest or not.”
It’s a space that the goalkeeper Endler has been a leader for Chile in, the team pushing for more support from the national federation. They qualified for the Olympics recently, clinching the final spot in the women’s football event.
“It's super exciting. I think a lot of us were really proud of [Endler],” Huitema said of her PSG teammate. “We were all super supportive of it and we're all just excited for her because we knew that it was a huge opportunity for Chile. They pulled it off and now they're in the Olympics.”
Olympic memories and motivations for Huitema
Huitema can remember Sinclair and team Canada’s inspiring run at the Olympic Games in 2012, when they beat hosts Great Britain in the quarter-finals and eventually claimed the bronze medal.
She wasn’t thinking about becoming a footballer then – per se – but believes the exposure at that age (she was 11) lit a fire that carried her into the sport, having soon to pick between that and another childhood love, hockey.
“It was more just like, ‘Wow, look how inspiring those women are,’” she remembered of 2012. “They're so strong.”
Three years later, Canada played host to the FIFA Women’s World Cup, in 2015.
“The World Cup was when I was actually at an age where I was like, ‘That's going to be me,’” she said. “It was like, ‘The next World Cup, that's going to be me.’ It was a shift in mindset [into], ‘I'm going to be there.’”
Huitema made her own World Cup debut in 2019, and now looks to help Canada achieve that goal of “changing the colour.”
A fearless ‘kid from Chilliwack’
But where does her fearlessness come from, as she’s made her way from one great success in her young career to the next?
According to Jordyn, it’s home grown.
“I feel like it comes from my family; just like the way I was raised, the way I grew up,” she said. “In my head, I'm just a small-town kid from Chilliwack. And that's how I’ve always been. My mum and I have had tons of conversations about staying grounded, staying humble, things like that. But it's like for me, it's never been an issue because I've never felt like I'm above anyone.”
“It definitely goes back to how I was raised. The competitiveness is from my brothers and probably some genetics from my parents. Growing up, playing in the backyard, [my brothers] were super aggressive. I was their little punching bag.”
The youngest of three, with two older brothers, it’s a sibling rivalry that has helped Huitema become the standout athlete she is today.
And with this kind of mindset and message for her fans:
“Be who you are, be yourself. Use your voice to empower the people around you, empower yourself, empower the people in your lives. And don't be scared to use your voice; you can impact so many people without even realizing it. So speak up when you want to and when you need to – and be who you are.” - Jordyn Huitema