The home nations’ hockey and rugby players may not have emulated England’s cricketers by winning international titles, but there were still some outstanding performances by our sportswomen during August. The Action Women of the Month nominations include representatives from badminton, taekwondo and athletics, as well as rugby and hockey. The Mixed Zone writers Gail Emms, Laura Winter and Will Moulton explain their choices
Click on individual tabs to read more about each sportswoman.
Adcock’s pursuit of excellence pays off
Article by Gail Emms
I first met Gabby Adcock fourteen years ago as she strutted into the National Badminton Centre as one of England’s top junior players. I was an established member of the GB team and I had already heard of Gabby and a few others. ‘Gobby Gabby’ was her nickname … and I soon found out why.
As a junior walking into the senior set-up, there’s an unwritten hierarchy, a rule about juniors needing to know their place, an unspoken respect … yeah, Gabby decided to ignore that within 10 minutes. She was giving out the orders, taking no crap from anyone and putting the noses out of a lot of the senior players! They were not happy at all! I remember laughing … and turning to one of the coaches and saying: “She’ll make it. She’s got balls.”
And my prediction has come true. To become a world-class female mixed doubles player, you have to have guts to stand up to the guy on the other side of the court who is smashing at 200mph, and to have a cat fight with the other woman. And that is while trying to keep the man in your partnership under control! It is a tough, non-PC role and it isn’t for the faint-hearted.
There were many doubters in the beginning with Gabby, yet her unrelenting pursuit of success and improvement has got her through and proved people wrong. She lives, breathes and exists for badminton. The bronze medal with husband Chris at the recent World Championships showed youngsters that you need more than just talent to succeed. It takes guts, dedication and a hell of a lot of hard work. ‘Gobby Gabby’ shows just how to do it.
Asher-Smith helps relay quartet upgrade to silver class
Article by Laura Winter
Dina Asher-Smith helped the sprint relay team land a stunning silver medal at an otherwise disappointing World Athletics Championships for Great Britain on their home track. The quartet of Asher-Smith, Asha Philip, Desiree Henry and Darryl Neita upgraded from the bronze they won last year at the Olympics in Rio when they finished behind the mighty United States squad in London.
They again proved themselves to be a foursome to be reckoned with on the world stage. The feat was made even more remarkable by Asher-Smith’s near miraculous recovery from a broken foot suffered in between the two global championships. A freak training accident in February resulted in the 22 year old fracturing her navicular bone, an injury which needed an operation to insert a metal screw.
Asher-Smith, who became the fastest British sprinter in history when she was still in her teens, then faced six weeks on crutches. She only competed six times in the lead-up to the London championships, where she finished fourth in the 200 metres by an agonising seven one-hundredths of a second. However, she remained upbeat. “This is only my second World Championships as an individual,” she said, “and I finished fourth. Especially with the year I’ve had, I’m really happy.
“This has arguably done more for me long-term mentally than an easy season and getting a medal would have. That sounds entirely crazy as a medal would have been fantastic. I’d have loved that. But when you are young you have to go through trials and tribulations to make you realise what real problems are. If I can have three months out and then run 22.22 seconds and still come fourth, it does fill you with confidence for the future. I’m so happy we upgraded the bronze to silver.”
However, that narrow defeat provided fuel for the fire. At the ITSAF meet in Berlin, Asher-Smith squeezed home first in a time of 22.41 seconds.
Scarratt rises to the occasions for Red Roses
Article by Will Moulton Emily Scarratt was consistency personified as she showcased at the Rugby World Cup why she is arguably the best player England have produced as she narrowly failed to carry the Red Roses to a successful defence of their title. But even she was powerless to prevent a staggering second-half comeback in the final from New Zealand’s Black Ferns to wrest back the crown they have now worn five times.
Having beaten New Zealand in their own backyard for the first time since 2001 in June, the Red Roses began the tournament as favourites, and with Scarratt in blistering form, confidence was high in the camp. The Lichfield player stepped up to the plate in each of the group games where she showed off the vast array of the skills she possess. There was intelligent line-running against Spain, brute strength and selflessness against Italy and an incredible turn of speed against the United States.
But it was in the semi-final against France where Scarratt really proved just how valuable she is to her country. The 27-year-old put in a number of crucial early tackles to repel her opponents before kicking a penalty under intense pressure to open the scoring that set the Red Roses on their way to a hard-fought victory. She capped that by underlining her versatility and sheer determination to overcome an early leg injury, producing another superb display in the final at full-back, which is not her favourite position.
The final was shown live on ITV during their Saturday evening prime-time slot and attracted a peak audience of 2.6 million viewers. With tries, drama and excitement aplenty, both sides could not have done any more to highlight just how fantastic women’s rugby is. Scarratt has now called on broadcasters to make every international women’s rugby game accessible to the masses. She said: “It would be awesome for that to happen with all our games, not just the biggest one there is.
“This was the biggest springboard we could possibly have had and we have to make sure we push on from it. We have to drive on and make sure it doesn’t drop off until the next World Cup when it spikes again. That’s the challenge.”
Walkden makes early booking for trip to China
Article by Laura Winter
Bianca Walkden won the Taekwondo Grand Prix title for the first time in her career, thereby qualifying for the inaugural Taekwondo Grand Slam tournament to be held in China next year. The 25 year old dominated her South Korean opponent, Kim Bich-na, winning 14-0 in the +67kg category in Moscow.
While the Liverpudlian heavyweight won gold in the 2016 Grand Prix Final, victory in Russia was her first title as part of the new qualification process. “Another one ticked off, I’m so happy,” she posted on social media, though it is worth mentioning as a footnote that her housemate and double Olympic gold medallist Jade Jones was absent as she continues to take time out of the sport.
Walkden was bitterly disappointed to win only bronze at the Olympic Games in Rio last year. But she has come out swinging this season, defending her +73kg title to win a second World Championship gold, a feat which no other British fighter has achieved.
Webb inspires England to hockey bronze
Hollie Webb was named player of the tournament as England followed up the heroics of Great Britain at the Olympic Games in Rio by landing the bronze medal at the EuroHockey Championships. With several of last summer’s golden girls retiring from the international game, it was left to the experienced heads like Webb to guide the youngsters through the tournament in Amsterdam, which she did with aplomb.
However, even Webb could not help England retain the title they won so dramatically by beating the Netherlands, their perennial rivals, on penalties in 2015. However, the new-look side were delighted with their third-place finish, not least because for many of the squad, this was just their second major international tournament of the summer after they reached the semi-final of the Hockey World League.
As defending champions, England were under plenty of pressure from the outset, and this only increased in their final group game against Scotland: an earlier defeat by Germany meant only a win would guarantee a place in the last four. Alongside team-mates from Rio, including Maddie Hinch, Laura Unsworth and Giselle Ansley, as well as exciting newcomers Anna Toman and Zoe Shipperley, Webb stepped up her game to ensure no Scottish attackers breached their defences as they prevailed 2-0.
In the semi-final they met a Dutch side intent on revenge. On a sweltering evening, Webb was outstanding, thwarting numerous attacks with her astounding ability to read her opponents’ play. However, Marloes Keetels scored in the final quarter to send the hosts into the final. But rather than let defeat consume her, Webb dusted herself off and put in another superb performance against Germany to secure the bronze.
The 26-year-old Surbiton defender admitted: “We didn’t want to be in the bronze-medal match after battling so hard against the Dutch, but we were determined not to leave Amsterdam without a medal, so I’m really proud of the girls. This group of players is so exciting. There is so much more to come from us. We have shown some of it here, but this is just the beginning.”