The Mixed Zone writers Laura Winter, Katie Smith and Katie Whyatt introduce the latest outstanding sporting achievements in our Action Women of the Month. The May list recognises inspirational performances in the fields of football, boxing, mountaineering and pole-vaulting
MAY’S ACTION WOMEN
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Adams climbs ladder towards a world title
Article by Laura Winter
Nicola Adams made another giant leap up the ladder in her dream to land a world title by next summer when she won her second professional fight. Roared on by her home crowd in Leeds, the double Olympic champion stopped Mexican opponent Maryan Salazar thirty-five seconds into the third of the three-minute rounds.
The 34-year-old flyweight said: “That was just what I wanted. Mexicans are always tough and strong and that was great preparation for a lot of the champions who are Mexican. The atmosphere was great. I knew I’d get a great reception because we are in Leeds. I’ve been dreaming about this moment for a long time and to walk in to the crowd chanting ‘Yorkshire’ was a great feeling.”
The step-up to three-minute rounds was welcomes by Adams, who said: “They definitely suited me better. I felt over two minutes it was too much of a rush and I didn’t really have any time to do anything. Now fighting over the three-minute rounds, I can stay relaxed and pick my punches right.” The Leeds-born fighter wants the longer rounds to become a permanent feature of her world-title fight campaign. There are suggestions any showdown might again be held on home turf, this time at Leeds United’s Elland Road.
Adams also took the opportunity to ask her promoter Frank Warren if her girlfriend, American boxer Marlen Esparza, could box on the same bill in a build-up fight. Esparza said it would “amazing” to be on the same card as Adams, who has some time before her next fight in Las Vegas in September. She said: “I would love to fight in the UK. It’s a long time to be out, I’d love to have a fight in between and this would be a dream.”
Warren remains impressed with his prodigy, saying: “She’s a good counter-puncher and I think she’ll cope with all styles. That’s the name of the game: to keep getting experience and fighting different styles. Once we feel Nicola is ready to win a world title – and hang on to it for a period of time, which is the key – then we’ll move up to title fights.”
Bradshaw record lifts Manchester spirits
Article by Katie Smith
Holly Bradshaw (nee Bleasdale) stole the show at the Great City Games that went ahead in Manchester just four days after the horrific terror attack. In true Mancunian style, the competition put on a fitting display of defiance and outstanding athletic spectacle. Bradshaw claimed a British pole-vault record with a clearance of 4.80 metres, having already seen off the opposition with a shortlived personal best of 4.72 metres.
British and world Masters pole-vault champion, Sue Yeomans, is excited about what Holly could do at the World Championships in London in August. “I’m keeping everything crossed for her,” she said. “Holly’s had so many injuries and back problems, so it was lovely to see her come back. And to get the record was just brilliant. It’s great for her confidence.”
Bradshaw, now 25, drew public attention when she broke the British indoor record back in 2012 with a clearance that put her third on the world all-time list. She is now back in top form after struggling to reach peak performances at major championships. Injuries have hampered her hopes of maintaining consistent form. “There’s nothing worse when you’re an athlete and you can’t do what you love,” says Yeomans. “Pole vault is a passion and I can only imagine how she felt sitting on the sidelines thinking, ‘I could be there, I could be doing that’.”
However, Bradshaw’s dominant display in Manchester suggests an athlete ready to step up at her upcoming home global championships. Yeomans was delighted the Games went ahead, insisting that adversity can lead to better performance. “It puts you in a mindset where you think, ‘You’re not going to stop us. We’re going to carry on and this time, we’ll make it extra special’. It spurs an athlete on.” It did for Bradshaw as she soared higher than any British female pole-vaulter had done before; her performance also highlighted the sport’s healing power, which was the theme of the day in a city in mourning.
Bronze turns silverware to gold
Article by Katie Whyatt
Lucy Bronze showed why she is one of football’s poster girls with a dazzling performance for Manchester City at Wembley in the FA Cup final. She started the ball rolling with City’s first in the 4-1 win over Birmingham City Ladies before setting up another for Izzy Christiansen.
It was not Bronze’s first final, and the contrast to her previous appearance, eight years ago, gave her an informed insight into how women’s football has come on apace in the intervening years. Back in 2009, Bronze won gold in terms of winning the player-of-the-match award, but silver in that her Sunderland side lost 2-1 to Arsenal Ladies.
“I watched a little clip back from the game the other day,” said Bronze, now aged 25. “Back then, Rachel Yankey was the superstar. I was the little kid who was meant to be marking her. A lot of things have changed since then: women’s football’s on the rise, attendances are on the rise, women’s football is getting better, the England team’s [getting] better and better. And I think it’s just going to continue to grow.”
Back to the present, and Bronze was her typically sprightly and industrious self as Manchester City were clinical in tearing through Birmingham in the first half, by the end of which the game was as good as over. Bronze opened the scoring, nodding home Megan Campbell’s free kick after slipping away from her marker. Later, she threaded a looping cross into the path of Christiansen, who tucked it away to emphasise City’s superiority.
Manchester City are a class act and look set to dominate the domestic game until the Women’s Super League can provide genuine financial rivals. City attract criticism for allegedly sapping the WSL of competitive balance, but Bronze insists this is not the case. “Only two weeks [before the final], we drew with Birmingham at home. That was a tight game,” she said.
“We’re not completely flying away with anything – we are winning games and winning trophies, but I think we’ve just got a good winning mentality and we know how to win. We know how to get through games without losing, and that’s a good trait to have as a team. But we only inched past Liverpool 1-0, we inched past Reading 3-2 – and we were losing at one point. I think a lot of teams are in and around us.”
Women’s football needs some of the other teams in the division to realise their potential; Bronze can attest to the benefits of doing so.
Hayes lights spark for refereeing revolution
Article by Katie Whyatt
Emma Hayes is a real woman of action when it comes to stirring things up in the world of women’s football. At the moment the Chelsea Ladies manager’s focus is on the paucity and quality of refereeing in the women’s game, providing a timely reminder that progress in any walk of life is only possible when pioneers like her refuse to be silenced.
Hayes, an MBE and one of the game’s most prominent and vocal voices, outlined her “massive concerns” over the FA’s neglect of officials in the women’s game to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “We have referees who are coming into the women’s game with zero training and development,” she said. “They have no meet-ups at the beginning of the season, they have no access to clips so they can’t evaluate their performances, and they are paid around half what they would be if they were reffing non-league games.”
The reality is shocking and grim. There are no marks, no points system at work – in the men’s game, this means promotion or demotion – and little understanding of the nuances of the women’s game and its implicit style differences. Consequently, there is no way of narrowing the pool of talent – Hayes believes it currently encompasses around 500 to 600 referees, a stark contrast to the 17 referees and 27 assistant referees who currently form the PGMOB Select Group for Premier League games.
In March, the FA launched their ‘Gameplan for Growth’ strategy to provide “comprehensive training and education” to all referees in the women’s game. But the initiative pales in comparison to the cultural transformation the sport has offered to referees in the men’s game. In the Premier League, for example, there has been a growing emphasis on humanising referees, on taking the public into an otherwise closed world: clarifying methods, training routines, explaining how and who arrives at in-game and retrospective decisions.
Howard Webb’s The Man In The Middle and the Sky Sports documentary The Referees – Onside with Carragher and Neville revealed the meticulous preparations and hours of video reviews and analysis that underpin a Premier League season. It is this endless pursuit of improvement – in a season where discussion of the role of video assistant referees has never been far from the back pages – that makes this neglect of the women’s game feel even more asinine.
Hayes, who led Chelsea to the Double in 2015, went as far as to describe the women’s game as an “afterthought”, and though the FA should be applauded for pumping record amounts of money into the women’s game, much has still to be done, starting with the men and women in the middle.
Hughes back on top of the world
Article by Katie Smith
For the majority of the general population, scaling Mount Everest’s 8,848-metre summit just once would be so far beyond their comfort level that they might as well have their heads in the clouds. For Mollie Hughes, once wasn’t enough, she had to do it again. Her second successful expedition, from which she has just returned, was via the more challenging north side of the mountain. Her seven-week trip, with five weeks spent on the treacherous slopes, made the 25-year-old the youngest Briton to have conquered Everest from both sides.
Hughes revealed: “We found out when we got back, when we looked at this table of all the women who had climbed Everest from both sides, and there were about 15 of them, that I was the youngest one. So I am actually the youngest woman in the world to have done it. Which is kind of cool.”
Despite feeling a far more mature mountaineer second time round, and avoiding the frostbite to which she fell prey to on her first expedition in 2012, the most recent trip was still “a struggle every day”.
Hughes admitted: “Every day I had to push my boundaries and push my limits. The toughest time was the summit day where we set off at 8.30pm to arrive for sunrise at 4.45am. The north side of the mountain is reasonably technical with lots of big rocks you have to climb over. There are fixed ropes on them and you basically have to pull yourself up. My arms were just so tired by the end and I thought, ‘How am I going to get myself up?’ My arms were so weak and I had big gloves on. But I had to keep pushing because there were so many people waiting to come up behind me. We had a great, tight team.”
It was her university dissertation that inspired Hughes to take on the world’s highest mountain. While conducting interviews with a group of men about the psychological experience of climbing Mount Everest (she couldn’t find a woman to talk to!), the already keen mountaineer soon realised that just writing about it was not enough; she wanted to go and do it herself.
Hughes is now focused on motivational speaking and trying to encourage more young people to take up challenges. “I think having this record now is a really good opportunity to share my story with other people, and hopefully inspire them to get out there and enjoy the outdoors.
“I think the trick is to just get on with it. As soon as you’re out there, and you’re trekking, you won’t regret it from day one. It changes your life, doing any kind of trip like that definitely makes you a better person. Just do it!”
Hughes returned this week to the UK, but living at sea-level won’t satisfy this adventurer for long. “I’m sure once I’ve recovered a bit more I’ll get itchy feet and start thinking about what mountains I want to climb next!”