Outstanding performances in sports as diverse as boxing, cricket, rugby, climbing and taekwondo make up the June list for our Action Women of the Month. The Mixed Zone writers Laura Winter, Will Moulton and Katie Whyatt explain why
JUNE’S ACTION WOMEN
Click on individual tabs to read more about each sportswoman.
Double world champion Coxsey looks to Tokyo
Article by Laura Winter
Shauna Coxsey won the world bouldering championships for the second consecutive year. After victory in the penultimate round of the IFSC Boulder World Cup Series in Mumbai, India, she defended her world title in hot and humid conditions, which made climbing tough.
After a strong season, Coxsey knew all she had to do was place ninth or higher in the final event to complete her goal. But the queen of UK bouldering had already clinched the title in the semi-finals, as the only woman to top all four blocs. She headed into the final in first place, and successfully maintained her position.
The 24-year-old has had to overcome a major shoulder ligament injury, suffered at the Boulder World Cup last August. Despite surgery, Coxsey showed no sign of a slow return to form.
The climber from Runcorn, said: “The boulders have been so much fun. I am totally buzzing about winning the overall! I really had no idea what to expect this season after hurting my shoulder. It was a hard time. So much has changed since then. I am still overwhelmed by the support I have received.”
With those two world titles to her name, Coxsey is already establishing herself as a medal hope for Tokyo 2020 when climbing makes its Olympic debut. She believes the unique format of the sport means it is a perfect fit for the Olympic Games. She said: “Climbing clicks perfectly with what the Olympics is trying to promote. It’s so natural. Kids climb, it’s one of the first things they do. And parents can do it with them. It’s like having permission to be a kid again.”
Coxsey started climbing when she was four years old, inspired by a documentary on Catherine Destivelle, a French freestyle climber. “I was totally captivated,” Coxsey says. “If she fell off there was nothing to hold her. It was incredible. I just said to my dad, ‘I want to try that’.”
Jonas return is gone in 92 seconds
Article by Will Moulton
The remarkable career of Natasha Jonas took another twist when she won her first professional fight – and her first bout for nearly three years – in just 92 seconds. After hanging up her gloves following the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and becoming a mother for the first time, the Liverpudlian southpaw only made the decision to become a paid boxer in April. But there were no signs of ring rust as she dominated Polish fighter Monika Antonik, unleashing a flurry of powerful punches before the referee stepped in to end the lightweight fight in the first round.
Having grown up wanting to become a professional footballer – her sister Nikita Parris currently plays for Manchester City and England – Jonas took up boxing in 2005, and by 2010 had won the ABAE Championships. And, while Nicola Adams may be the country’s most famous female boxer, it’s Jonas who has been the trendsetter: she was the first female to represent GB Boxing, in 2009, before winning the first women’s Olympic bout at London 2012.
Despite winning numerous fights during her amateur career, she admitted feeling nervous before her maiden professional clash, but was delighted with the outcome given the short time she had to prepare. “It was all down to the hard work of my coach Joe and myself obviously,” the 33-year-old said. “Together we’ve put in the hard work and there’s the result. I was more nervous on Wednesday night coming up. Ever since then everyone’s been like, ‘Make sure you enjoy it’ and that’s what I did.”
After the fight Jonas fuelled talk of a rematch with Katie Taylor, having been knocked out of the 2012 Olympics by the Irish superstar. Taylor won lightweight gold that year before turning professional in 2016. She has won each of her five fights so far, most recently knocking out Nina Meinke to claim the WBA Inter-Continental lightweight belt.
While Jonas has a lot to do before she is ready to take on the might of Taylor, she thinks it could certainly be a possibility if she continues to be so dominant in her next few fights. “I think it’s what the people want to see,” she said. “She’s on her journey, I’m on mine and if it means that we meet at the end then we meet. But I’ve got to keep on putting in nights like that.”
Packer sends out World Cup warning
Article by Will Moulton
Replacing the great Maggie Alphonsi is no mean feat, but the recent International Women’s Rugby Series confirmed that in Marlie Packer, England have found the perfect fit ahead of this year’s World Cup. England’s final games before the defence of their world title could not have gone any better as they overcame Australia, Canada and New Zealand in the three-match series. The final victory against the Black Fearns in a sodden Rotorua ensured England overtook them as the No1 side in the world for the first time; Packer ended a superb individual tour with a well-deserved try.
Alongside 2016 World Player of the Year Sarah Hunter, and England’s most capped players, Rochelle Clark and Tamara Taylor, Packer has helped forge a formidable pack unlike any other in the game. The flanker has won many plaudits for her defensive capabilities, especially against Ireland in the final game of this year’s Six Nations as England secured their first Grand Slam since 2012.
But the former plumber has much more to her game than that: she also possesses fantastic attacking skills, something she showcased in abundance during the series. Packer’s try was one of three which came from rolling mauls that New Zealand could do little to stop as they lost to England at home for the first time since 2001. The openside also proved she is just as effective in the backline as she produced a superb offload to set up Abbie Scott for the opening try in the previous game against Canada.
However, with so many players putting in world-class performances across the tour – including Sarah Mckenna’s hat-trick against Australia – captain Hunter chose to praise the whole team. “We’re by no means the finished article, but it does send a statement and we’ll take confidence from coming to such a tough place and winning,” the No 8 said.
Coach Simon Middleton took a similar tone, choosing to emphasise the success of the team collectively following the New Zealand game. “We needed to give everything against the best side in the world and we’ve done that and so are rightfully very happy and very proud,” he said.
Packer may not often grab the headlines, but her tireless and skillful work will ensure England have the best possible chance of becoming world champions once again come August 26.
Sciver blasts quickfire record century
Article by Katie Whyatt
Natalie Sciver compiled the fastest hundred for England in a World Cup match, taking just 76 balls to reach her century against Pakistan in an encounter where records were being shattered like broken china everywhere you looked. England cruised to a 107-run victory, having clocked up their highest World Cup total of 377 for seven, at the start of a summer in which the sport hopes to force itself on to the main stage.
England’s openers fell cheaply, but Heather Knight and Sciver were clinical in their riposte. Knight scored 106 off 109 balls to mark her maiden ODI century. But it was Sciver, likewise toasting her first, who would steal the headlines. They racked up the runs steadily before Sciver’s punishing, bruising blitz began in earnest, as she drove four successive fours and, later, three successive sixes.
“Nat Sciver changed the game,” former England captain Charlotte Edwards said on BBC Test Match Special. “She brought intensity and it was an outstanding innings – one I don’t think many of us will forget. You always knew she was an unbelievable talent, but her game has gone to another level in the last year and this is going to be the first of many.”
Having lost to India in their opener, this was an ultimately emphatic response that places England’s World Cup hopes firmly back on track. Inevitably, concerns about the sport’s visibility will always run in tandem with events on the pitch. But hosting this summer’s tournament, and serving up such crunching displays, marks a crucial step in bolstering the profile of women’s cricket in this country.
Walkden makes amends for Rio with world gold
Article by Laura Winter
Bianca Walkden became the first Briton to defend a world title in taekwondo. The 25-year-old beat Jackie Galloway, Olympic bronze medallist from the United States, in the 73kg+ category in South Korea to add to her gold medal in Russia in 2015.
The heavyweight had set her sights on a world title as consolation after Rio 2016 when she was left devastated at having to settle for the bronze after setting her sights on gold.
Walkden said: “To be honest it hasn’t sunk in, I’m just so happy. I played it down more than I thought I would and came out into the final and was thinking, ‘This is just the gym, I’ll just try and kick everyone’ like I do in practice.
“I didn’t think it would be that fluent, if that makes sense. They were difficult opponents, but I felt really composed. And my gamble has paid off. I took off my gold medal [from 2015] and treated this as though it was double or quits. And I came back with double.
“I was devastated after the Rio Olympics. It still burns me now and that has to be my goal for the future – to keep winning worlds, but to get that gold in Tokyo.”
Walkden defeated home favourite An Sae-bom in the semi-final 9-3, on the way to the final. But it wasn’t just silverware that motivated Walkden. She posted on Instagram, under a photo of her pointing at the sky in victory, “Did it for you again, Grandad!! Trying to keep you alive, hope you’re proud of me. Ti amo, miss you.”
Walkden took time out post-Olympics, yet still returned to the mat in good form, winning the Grand Prix Final in Baku, gold at the German Open, silver at the Dutch Open, and taking the President’s Cup, to prove she is one of the most dominant fighters in her category.