Well, that’s the first month of 2017 over and done with, and it is time to see which outstanding performances by our sportswomen in January caught the eye of a panel of The Mixed Zone contributors for Action Women of the Month. Gail Emms, Olympic badminton silver medallist and hairstylist to the stars, was impressed by Johanna Konta’s run to the last eight in the Australian Open tennis; Laura Winter was trackside to witness Katie Archibald win three national titles at the cycling championships; editor Sue Mott appreciated the efforts of Millie Knight, Britain’s first paraskiing world champion, and Georgie Acons, who ran the world for charity; while Siobhan Chamberlain aped Maddie Hinch’s antics for football’s Lionesses. Read on.
JANUARY’S ACTION WOMEN
Click on individual tabs to read more about each sportswoman.
Konta’s hair-raising and match-winning exploits
Article by Gail Emms
At the 2015 BT Sport Action Women awards, I was backstage outside the make-up department, waiting to be transformed into a glamour goddess, when an Amazonian Johanna Konta appeared worrying that the hairstyle she was sporting was going to fall out. As I am now a mum with a bag that has absolutely everything in, I quickly came to the rescue with some hairpins, hairspray and reassurance that she looked great and that it would hold. She smiled and thanked me for being a great hair and make-up artist and went on her way. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was, or used to be, a fellow racketeer …
But I’ll take a little credit from our meeting as, since then, Johanna has climbed the world rankings, reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, losing to eventual champion Serena Williams, and generally transformed into a world-beater on the circuit.
In sports where it is just you and a track, you and a bike, it can be easier to push yourself and measure improvement. Imagine having to be the best of your physical ability and make the tactical and strategy decisions to beat an opponent who may be fitter, stronger and want to win just as much as you? And you are on your own … just you and that tennis court and your mind playing your self-belief against your insecurity.
Johanna, whatever you are doing, keep at it. And I’ll always be here with the hairpins and hairspray.
Archibald’s treble: fearless, fast, fiesty
Article by Laura Winter
Katie Archibald snaffled three titles at the National Track Cycling Championships, and almost snatched a fourth. Not a bad haul considering that less than three months earlier she had fractured her wrist in a crash halfway through the Madison at the World Cup meeting in Glasgow, a race that she and partner Manon Lloyd picked themselves up and won.
It underlined that the Scot is not only as hard as nails, but dogged and determined to boot. She proved there was no lasting damage as she stormed to victories in the points race, scratch race and individual pursuit in Manchester. She narrowly missed out on a maiden win in the keirin. However, the silver medal was a triumph in itself for the endurance rider: the six-lap keirin is a sprint event and therefore somewhat out of Archibald’s comfort zone.
The 22-year-old Olympic champion and team pursuit world record holder had to battle both Rio 2016 teammate Elinor Barker and up-and-coming star Neah Evans in that race as she came out of the three-day events as the top female rider. She had joked on day one that she felt like pulling out that morning. But it is not just on the bike that Archibald impresses. Yes, she is fearless, fast and feisty, but she also has a wicked, dry sense of humour, a wonderful way with words in interviews and is engagingly candid about her racing and training experiences.
This year will be her biggest away from the velodromes and out on the roads. She is already planning to ride the Women’s Tour and the Tour of Yorkshire among others. While she may be enjoying some downtime this week – indeed she said she was in agony and would spend some time in bed – Archibald has more than shown she is in impressive form coming into 2017.
Knight is queen of the slopes
Article by Sue Mott
Millie Knight had to be granted permission by King’s School, Canterbury, to take time away from her A Level studies to become Britain’s first paraskiing world champion. It paid off. The 18-year-old, who competes as a partially sighted athlete, beat five-time Paralympic champion Henrieta Farkasova by 1.2 seconds to land the downhill title at the World Alpine Championships in Tarvisio, Italy. The Slovak, nearly twelve years Knight’s senior, gained a measure of revenge by pushing the Brit into second place in the later Super Combined event.
The two podium finishes capped a dominant winter campaign on the Alpine World Cup circuit, where she has won 11 medals, seven of them gold. If she continues on this uphill trajectory she is on course to land Britain’s first Paralympic Games skiing title when they are held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next year.
It will not be her first Paralympic Games experience, though. Three years ago, in Sochi, she became the youngster GB competitor at the age of 15, and she was given the honour of carrying the British flag at the Opening Ceremony.
Her skiing “passion/obsession”, as she calls it, began at the age of six. By that time she had lost most of her vision, having been diagnosed aged three with toxocariasis, an infection passed on by roundworm parasites common in cats and dogs.
Knight’s success has coincided with the arrival of latest guide Brett Wild, a Royal Navy submariner. She had gone through nine guides, and nearly given up the sport, before Wild came on the horizon. She described finding the right guide as “like trying to find a prince. Sometimes you have to kiss load of frogs first, right?” Maybe the clue to their rapport is in his name. Wild by name, wild by nature. “I love the downhill and speed is definitely my strength,” explained Knight.
Acons completes marathon of marathons
Article by Sue Mott
They say a week’s a long time in politics, but it’s even longer, and more exhausting, if you have decided to run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. That’s what Georgie Acons pledged to do to raise money and awareness for the Brain Tumour Charity. And on Sunday she crossed the finish-line in Sydney to complete the World Marathon Challenge.
The challenge began with a marathon in Antarctica and proceeded at furious pace across the globe from Punta Arenas in Chile (South America), via Miami (North America), Madrid (Europe), Marrakesh (Africa) and Dubai (Asia) before finishing 168 hours later in Australia. On top of running 26.2 miles each day, there was the constant battle with jetlag, which can hardly help the daily necessities of preparation and recovery.
But Acons admitted before the start that she had three options: “Give up, give in or give it all you’ve got. I’m going for option three.”
She explained her reasons for packing her running shoes and taking on the world. She said: “I sadly lost a friend at school, and more recently a dear family friend has also been diagnosed with a brain tumour.”
Watching the Olympic Games, and particularly the GB women’s hockey team, provided a second inspiration. Acons said: “The thing that struck me was how much respect captain Kate Richardson-Walsh’s teammates have for her. She leads by example and empowers others which I admire greatly. In 2012 Kate broke her jaw but came out to play a few days later and that’s where I pulled inspiration from. Where there’s a will there’s a way.”
That struck a chord with the captain herself who reciprocated by tweeting from @katewalsh11: “This lady is kicking all kinds of ass.”
Football’s very own Maddie Hinch
There might not have been a gold medal at the end of it, like Maddie Hinch’s reward for her heroics in the Olympic hockey final shootout in Rio, but Siobhan Chamberlain’s penalty save for the Lionesses against Sweden had a significance of its own.
When Kosovare Asllani, who plays in the FA WSL for Manchester City, put the ball on the penalty spot during the second half of last week’s friendly, it looked as if England’s two-game pre-season trip to Spain was going to end in back-to-back defeats.
But Liverpool goalkeeper Chamberlain discovered her inner Hinch, threw herself to her left and turned Asllani’s penalty around the post. England held on for a 0-0 draw, Chamberlain celebrated a clean sheet and both now continue to focus on the build-up to the European Championship in Holland this summer.
Not that Chamberlain is quite as fastidiously obsessive about her preparation for the possibility of penalties as her hockey counterpart. “No, nothing as exciting as Maddie Hinch and her notebook and water bottle,” she laughs.
“We do our opposition analysis before matches and get given information on their players. Sometimes there is information on penalty-takers, but this time I just went on my gut instinct. I guess there was a little more to it than that, but I can’t give away my thought process as it’ll make it far too easy for the next taker!”
Chamberlain has waited a long time to be an overnight heroine. Now 33, and a veteran of three World Cup and two previous Euros squads, she has spent more time on the bench than between the sticks during an England career spanning 13 years. Indeed, she was only playing in Spain because regular No1 Karen Bardsley had pulled out through injury. But Chamberlain was the stand-out player on the warm-up tour, beaten just once in the 1-0 defeat by Norway that preceded the draw with Sweden, the Olympic silver medallists.