This is fast becoming a bumper summer for women’s sport. July has had its fair share of outstanding performances as shown by our list of Action Women of the Month, with the nominations coming on the biggest stages: Wimbledon, the World Para-athletics Championships, cricket’s World Cup and the ongoing European Football Championship. The Mixed Zone writers Laura Winter, Katie Whyatt and Will Moulton explain the choices
JULY’S ACTION WOMEN
Click on individual tabs to read more about each sportswoman.
‘Hurricane Hannah’ storms to three more golds
Article by Will Moulton
Hannah Cockroft claimed a hat-trick of gold medals at the 2017 World Para-athletics Championships to become the most decorated British athlete of all time. Despite suffering from food poisoning and a cold, Cockroft dominated the T34 class in London, setting world records on her way to victory in the 100 and 400 metres, as well as posting a championship record in the 800.
That took her gold-medal tally from major meets to 15 – two more than the legendary Tanni Grey-Thompson – with 10 of those coming in world championships. That is only three fewer than the record set by the great American Tatyana McFadden, seen by many as the pinnacle of wheelchair racing in recent years.
At London 2017 ‘Hurricane Hannah’ also extended her incredible record at major championships – she has never lost a race. However, she was pushed hard by British team-mate Kare Adenegan – who beat her in a race back in 2015 – and American Alexa Halcko who, at 16 and 17 respectively, could put her under real pressure in years to come.
Cockroft admitted the wins were especially satisfactory as she managed to overcome both her illnesses and the doubters who suggested that, at 24, she was past her best. “I’m feeling really emotional. I even had a little cry,” she said after winning her final gold in the 400.
“I was confident until I got full of cold. When I came to the start-line I felt like I had nothing to put into the race. All the way round I was thinking, ‘I’m not going fast enough, I’m not going fast enough’. So to get this result when I was feeling like that is such a relief.
“This is my 10th world title, but that hasn’t really sunk in yet. I’m so used to taking each race as it comes. Every time I put on this top it’s still a massive honour to represent Britain and British Athletics. But I’m not finished yet. My motivation was out there: those two young girls right at my back. They are the reason I train. I want to prove I can still go fast. I just want to keep going. I want to prove I can keep going a little while longer.”
Hermitage picks up the pieces in style
Article by Will Moulton
Georgie Hermitage put the pain of an injury-hit start to 2017 behind her by claiming two scintillating T37 golds at the 2017 World Para-athletics Championships in London.
Coming off the high of winning three medals – two golds and a silver – at Rio 2016, the Guildford-born athlete struggled with a leg problem earlier in the year. There were even times where she doubted she would make the event. But Hermitage returned to form in style to claim the 400-metres gold in a world record time before setting a championship record in the 100.
“The year has been awful,” said the 28-year-old, “so to come out and perform like that is beyond my expectations. I had a really good winter after Rio and then had a setback with more bone stress in my leg on my affected side. What should have been six weeks off took three months, and it was a real slog to get back. There were times when I didn’t think I’d get back.
“Everything fell apart in my life. It happens to a lot of athletes. You come home from the Paralympics and you don’t really know how to cope, and that’s what happened to me. Everything fell to pieces. But my friends and family picked me back up again.”
What made her success even sweeter was the fact that she was able to produce these performances in the same stadium that inspired her to come back to athletics in 2012 when she watched Mo Farah at the Olympic Games. Having quit the sport aged 14, Hermitage returned to the track after giving birth to daughter Tilly five years ago.
She has been an unstoppable force since then, but still admits she finds it hard to fathom just how much she has achieved in such a short space of time. “I feel like I’ve done a full circle now,” she explained. “I was a very simple girl who worked in a brewery and I loved my job. But to be that girl and now to do this is rare and I’m very proud.”
Konta makes historic mark on Wimbledon
Article by Laura Winter
Jo Konta became the first British woman to reach the semi-finals at Wimbledon since Virginia Wade in 1978, the year after she famously lifted the trophy. Konta made it to the last four, producing one of the best matches of the tournament when she beat world No2 Simona Halep 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 on Centre Court. Konta, the sixth seed, was finally beaten by 10th seed Venus Williams 6-4, 6-2. Her conqueror went on to lose the final in straight sets to Garbine Muguruza.
Konta’s Wimbledon run means she will break into the world’s top five for the first time in the next rankings, moving to number four. That is a remarkable achievement given that she was outside the top 200 in 2012. However, by 2016 she had become Britain’s first top-10 player for more than 30 years.
Such was Konta’s dedication to SW19, the self-confessed U2 fanatic even missed the chance to see the band in concert just six miles down the road at Twickenham. But the 26-year-old admitted she had a “massive fan-girl moment” when they tweeted her “good luck” before her fourth-round match. She did, however, catch the band live in Dublin later in the month.
Tweets from Bono aside, Konta also used baking as a distraction as the pressure mounted at Wimbledon, bringing a tupperware box full of chocolate chip or banana muffins for her team most days. She said of the home support she received: “I feel very lucky. I’ve been very fortunate these championships. I feel very excited and humbled by the support. When you get a massive crowd of people cheering, making that sort of noise in a stadium, you do get goosebumps.”
But her success was not without its controversies as she was asked to again defend herself against claims she “was not British” despite competing for Team GB at the 2016 Olympic Games and being a British citizen. Famously, John Humphrys asked “What are you?” in a Radio Four interview; it is full credit to Konta that she answered so eloquently. “I’m a British citizen and I’m incredibly proud to represent Great Britain. I have done so officially since 2012, but definitively I have personally since 2005 when I moved here.”
Shrubsole becomes the first lady of Lord’s
Article by Laura Winter
Anya Shrubsole claimed six wickets for just 46 runs to help England win cricket’s World Cup. On a magnificent day at Lord’s, Shrubsole’s devastating bowling display turned the tide against India and towards England.
India needed just 33 from 39 balls, with five wickets in hand, when Shrubsole took centre stage. The 25-year-old seamer had completed the first five-wicket haul in a World Cup final when Jenny Gunn dropped a catch that would have clinched the title. Shrubsole was not fazed. If she was nervous, it did not show.
She bowled Gayakwad with the very next delivery, thereby elevating women’s cricket in this country to stratospheric levels. Her dominant display in the final meant she broke into the top 10 of the International Cricket Council’s one-day bowling rankings for the first time, alongside her lead in the T20 equivalent.
Shrubsole said: “It was looking like it was going to be tight. The run-rate was creeping up to six an over and in a World Cup final you know that’s going to be close.
“It’s amazing how two wickets suddenly change things. From there on in it was all about hitting the stumps. When everyone is running into a huddle, I often just take myself off to the side and make sure I remain composed, so I’m ready to bowl the next ball.
“Everything happened so fast. One minute we were losing, the next minute we’d won. You’re just so focused, you forget it’s a World Cup final until the last wicket, and then you just never want that moment to end. It’s been a really special tournament. What happened at Lord’s is something we should be immensely proud of and something we should never forget.”
A photo posted online by father Ian of a 10-year-old Anya gazing out from the stands at cricket’s headquarters has since gone viral. Not only does it demonstrate that dreams can come true if you work hard enough, it is also a symbol of the glass ceiling Shrubsole and the England team smashed on the way to achieving those dreams. Lord’s was a sell-out for the final, while it is estimated 100 million watched live on television worldwide. Sky Sports recorded 1.1 million viewers, the highest number for any cricket match this year.
Taylor is the pride of the Lionesses
Article by Katie Whyatt
“This is not luck. This is not just down to ability. Jodie has an obsession with scoring goals and we are so, so proud of her,” eulogised the coach Mark Sampson as the Lionesses huffed and puffed their way to a first victory over France for 43 years. More importantly, Jodie Taylor’s latest goal carried England through to the semi-finals of the European Championship.
The tournament is in full-swing and the 31-year-old Arsenal striker is grabbing all the headlines. Taylor bagged a hat-trick during England’s 6-0 opening win over Scotland; she was on target once more against Spain, four minutes from time, adding to Fran Kirby’s earlier strike to seal the Lionesses’ second victory. As England probed for the difference against France in the quarter-final – both sides refusing to blink in a jabbing, snatching, tightly-poised staring contest – it was Taylor, of course, who would find it, her two-touch finish nestling neatly in the bottom corner.
The statistics are staggering everywhere you look. Taylor became the first England player since Gary Lineker, in 1986, to score a hat-trick at an international tournament. England’s quarter-final win over France drew the biggest TV audience women’s football has ever enjoyed in this country. This summer, the Lionesses became the first England senior team to get out of a group at a major tournament with a 100 per cent record since 1982. Sampson’s ultimate aim – buoyed by the FA’s annual £17.7million investment into the women’s game – is for England to displace the United States as the world’s best female team. On this summer’s evidence, it might happen sooner than expected.
Inevitably, major tournaments become particularly seminal moments for the Lionesses – even more so during a month that has already seen so much success for women’s sport – yet it feels already like these Euros are gaining a different kind of cultural traction.
In some ways, England’s 2015 World Cup campaign in Canada lacked an obvious poster girl. You could pick Lucy Bronze, at a push, for her goal against Norway, but more striking was the collective, for multiple reasons: for many, the 2015 World Cup was their first genuine glimpse of women’s football; Mark Sampson’s rotation policy was in full swing, viewers treated to a revolving cast of players all over the park. To win bronze as they did, after the heartbreak of their semi-final defeat by Japan, underscored their obvious togetherness.
England’s ranks have long brimmed with narrative, but Taylor has truly emerged as the team’s obvious breakout star, who, no matter when or how the journey ends, will join the likes of Bronze, Toni Duggan and Steph Houghton as the sport’s most famous faces. Women’s football – and, indeed, Jodie Taylor, who won her first England cap aged 28 – has fought long for the spotlight; there is little sign of it dimming just yet.