Our Action Women of the Month list for March highlights four sportswomen’s incredible achievements on the ski slopes, on an ice-covered track, around the rugby fields of northern Europe and the boards of an indoor running track. The final spot recognises the persistence of a woman scorned that could eventually have positive repercussions for women’s sport in general. The Mixed Zone writers Laura Winter, Katie Smith, Susan Egelstaff and Alys Bowen relive the best sporting moments of March
MARCH’S ACTION WOMEN
Click on individual tabs to read more about each sportswoman.
Atkin crowned the Snow Queen
Article by Laura Winter
Izzy Atkin became the first British woman to win a World Cup ski slopestyle event. In the fifth and final event of the season in Silvaplana, Switzerland, the 18-year-old scored 88.40 to win the gold medal ahead of Emma Dahlstrom of Sweden and home favourite Mathilde Gremaud.
Atkin did it the hard way. She was the only Brit to qualify for the final, and that in fourth place, before leaving everything out on the snow to snatch gold. Her success had not been signposted: there were a smattering of top-10 finishes in her previous 14 World Cup outings, but this was her first appearance on any step of the podium.
She was understandably delighted. “I am absolutely stoked with how I skied,” she said.
“The weather was perfect and the course was amazing. I couldn’t be happier! I want to say a huge thanks to all the coaches, support staff, GB Park and Pipe and British Ski and Snowboard.” Not content with that slice of history, Atkin followed up with a bronze medal at the World Championships in Sierra Nevada.
Atkin, who was born in Boston, Massachusetts, has been competing for Team GB since she was 15 after initially competing for the United States. Her father’s side of the family all live in the UK and Atkin visits regularly from Park City in Utah where the family moved when she was 14. She started skiing when she was just three years old before entering the freestyle and free-skiing programmes five years later. By the age of nine, she was already competing, contesting the moguls and aerials, as well as slopestyle, half pipe and big air events.
The 2018 Winter Olympics are now in her sights, as well as the prestigious X-Games. The gold and bronze medals won during March suggest she will be a strong prospect at both.
Twitter – @izzyjadebella
Christie takes long jump to success
Article by Katie Smith
Elise Christie can only remember “screaming and being insanely happy” as she was crowned triple world champion at the Short Track Speed Skating World Championships in Rotterdam. Despite not competing in a 1500-metre race for a year, Christie upset years of Asian dominance across the sport by winning both the 1,000 and 1500 metres finals, and consequently taking home gold as the overall classification victor. No European woman had claimed a Short Track World title before. Christie’s victory was doubly significant as it also marked personal vindication after her disastrous Olympic campaign at Sochi in 2014.
The 26-year-old earns her place among the Action Women of the Month for rock-hard resilience after toying with retirement in 2014, and her exciting racing tactics where she is always pressing to win. Christie’s success can now push her tactical, complex and exhilarating sport into the public eye, emulating how Lizzy Yarnold’s Olympic gold elevated the almost unknown skeleton as a national sport.
After being disqualified in all three of her events in the 2014 Games, Christie has come to understand that making the wrong decision in a race does not necessarily mean making a bad decision. “There was a survey done and if you commit to the wrong decision but 100 per cent commit to it, as opposed to making the right decision but not committing to it, the percentage rate for success is higher when you make the wrong decision.”
She continues: “In short track it’s all happening so quickly and you’re travelling so fast with one lane on a tight track. We do a lot of practising and mock races in training to get used to things going wrong. They put you in a bad situation and try and get you to figure out how to get out of it in five laps.”
Her risk-taking, strategic approach sounds as akin to a chess player as it does to an athlete who trains three to four times a day. However, if she were not a speed skater, Christie is tempted by another sport – one that is a little different from her current day job. “I’d like to try something like long jump, which is really short and snappy and done in ten seconds,” chuckles an athlete who is far too familiar with the lactic acid burn of a 1500-metre race. “But I don’t think I’d be very good at it!”
Now, with the Pyeongchang Olympics less than a year away, her attention is focused on improving on this year’s golden start. With her new steeled mental strength, Elise Christie is positioned to be the potential star of Team GB as they look to improve on the four medals won in 2014. Hopefully she will leave the long jump until after then.
Twitter – @Elise_Christie
It all adds up for Red Roses’ super woman
Article by Laura Winter
Harriet Millar-Mills was the standout player in the Red Roses’ spectacular Six Nations Grand Slam. The versatile second rower who played every minute of the Championship was named Player of the Match in England’s final match of the series against Ireland, which they won 34-7 to secure their fifth victory and the Grand Slam. That she played in three different positions throughout the arduous campaign was testimony to her resilience, strength and endurance.
It’s a bit like Superman: Harriet MM and her double identify. She’s a 25-year-old maths teacher at a girls’ boarding school in Banbury in one guise, and a stand-out contributor to the all-conquering Red Roses in the other. At the moment, the England team are taking precedence as they gear up for the challenge to retain their title as world champions in Ireland this summer.
“I’ve got time off until September, but I did go back for Maths Revision Day after the Six Nations. ‘Miss, what have you done?’ the girls all asked me, fascinated by the black eye I’d acquired during the Ireland game. I often get terrible looks in the supermarket, too. You can see people wondering who’s given it to you.”
The sporting adventure began when she joined in her younger brother’s training session at Manchester Rugby Club at the age of nine. She thought “I quite like this” and progressed up the ages and ranks to win her first international cap for England in 2011. “So I’ve been playing for quite a long time now. God, how many years is that? And I’m supposed to be a maths teacher.” She settled on 16.
Since that first cap, she has been in and out of the international team, but has now proved herself as one of the most versatile players in the squad, capable of being deployed in a variety of positions. In one match during the Six Nations series she started in the second row, moved to six and finished up at eight.
Twitter – @millarmills
Muir ends long wait at the double
Article by Susan Egelstaff
It felt, Laura Muir admitted, that her first major championship medal was a long time coming. After disappointment at missing out at her home Commonwealth Games in Glasgow three years ago – a stumble left her languishing in 11th place in the final of the 1500 metres – and heartbreak at yet again missing out on a podium spot at the Rio Olympics last year, the 23-year-old Scot was beginning to wonder whether she was ever going to get her hands on some major silverware.
The wait may have been longer than she would have liked, but Muir grabbed her first major medal in glorious style in March after taking gold in the 1500 metres at the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade. After a strong start to 2017, Muir had been the overwhelming favourite going into the race and she duly delivered, winning in emphatic fashion and breaking the British record in the process.
Muir surely deserved her long-awaited lap of honour, but an over-officious steward told her “no”.
Muir would not be denied her moment, though, and a cheeky side-step saw her evade the steward and lap up the applause on her glory circuit. “I had to fight for that lap of honour, didn’t I?” the veterinary student laughed in the aftermath of her victory. “They said, ‘We don’t have time’, but I thought, ‘This is my first medal. I am not going to lose out on my lap of honour. I’m going”. I couldn’t really believe what she was saying. But I thought, at the end of the day, she wouldn’t be able to catch me.”
Muir was not finished there: a day later she doubled her major medal tally by winning gold in the 3,000 metres.
These medals could be just the beginning of a very special few years for Muir. Double Olympic champion, Kelly Holmes, whose British records Muir is picking off one by one, believes that the Scot is just coming into her prime. “She has absolutely exploded on to the scene and she’s in the greatest shape she has ever been in,” said Holmes. “Running fast and winning medals are two completely different things, so for her to have the mindset that she can be a champion is so important.”
Twitter – @lauramuiruns
Varnish pedals furiously to right wrongs
Article by Alys Bowen
Even though she did not clip her cleats into the pedals competitively during the month of March, Jess Varnish has still made a significant impact on the cycling world. She has gone where no one has ever gone before: singlehandedly standing up to British Cycling, the most successful national governing body of modern times, over the dysfunctional culture endemic within the organisation. And it doesn’t seem that she’ll be backpedalling anytime soon.
A year ago she made allegations of sexism against her coach Shane Sutton, and questioned the conditions in which she was dismissed from Great Britain’s Olympic team. Yet a report conducted by UK Sport and British Cycling cleared Sutton of eight of nine sexist claims. Varnish, who was banned from speaking about the details of the report, was, of course, not taking any of this lying down. She accused British Cycling of a cover-up to benefit their own agenda. Now that a draft version of the findings was leaked to the Daily Mail at the beginning of March proving her statements to be true, Varnish has gained significantly more momentum to her movement.
Her initial allegations led to many other riders coming forward and Varnish became the poster girl for the disaffected. She has not only initiated calls for the entire British Cycling board to resign but has triggered other sports to examine their own inner workings as well. Now swimming has launched an investigation into their “culture of fear”, demonstrating that what Varnish has achieved reaches further than she, or her supporters, ever thought it would.
It could be argued that Varnish is one of the most successful British cyclists: her determination and willingness to bring into the open what happened not just to her, but many other cyclists, is admirable. Not only that, but now her voice is more respected than most senior authorities in British Cycling.
Speaking to the BBC, Varnish said: “It would have been easier for me to walk away and accept things and say nothing, and it’s been really hard. But it’s fairness which drove me to do it. I have always stuck up for myself and others when I think something is unfair and that’s why I’ve done it, for fairness.”
Varnish has become an example for everyone who has to fight for the truth. Her battle, although already a year long, will change the face of British cycling for years to come. A woman of action, indeed.
Twitter – @JessVarnish