Outstanding performances in the sports of cricket, cycling, rugby union, snowboarding and speed skating make up our November list for Action Women of the Month. The Mixed Zone writers Will Moulton, Olivia Shears and Sarah Leach examine the nominations
Click on individual tabs to read more about each sportswoman.
Barker back on track with gold-medal performances
Article by Sarah Leach
With precious little preparation, Elinor Barker’s move indoors on to the track brought two more medals of golden hue at the second World Cup meeting of the season to add to her growing collection.
With Katie Archibald metaphorically alongside her, Barker helped edge out world champions Belgium by just two points to win the Madison in the Manchester leg of the World Cup series before the British duo teamed up with Neah Evans and Emily Nelson to leave European champions Italy trailing by nearly five seconds in the team pursuit.
The week before, in Archibald’s absence, Barker had been joined by Nelson in the opening round, held in Pruszkow in Poland, and taken Madison silver with 23 points to Belgium’s 29.
Barker, who is adept in the saddle be it on a banked velodrome or on the open road, started her track season within weeks of the Road World Championships in which a mechanical problem meant she finished 19th in the time-trial in Bergen, Norway.
The 23-year-old, who has won titles at Olympic, world and European championships, admitted: “I hadn’t really done a huge amount of track training ahead of this.
“I’ve used this racing block as training to get that top-end speed, and I feel like I’m faster now.”
She will need to be on top of both disciplines come April when she plans to double up on road and track at the Commonwealth Games, which take place on Australia’s Gold Coast just a month after the Track World Championships.
Before that, though, Barker will exchange lycra for elegant frock at the BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year awards on Monday evening. She will be competing for the main title against footballer Gareth Bale, para-athlete Aled Sion Davies, rugby union player Jonathan Davies, judo’s Natalie Powell as well as another cyclist, Geraint Thomas, the first Welshman to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France.
Eleven-try Breach is pick of the Red Roses
Article by Will Moulton
The Red Roses look to have found the perfect replacement for the recently retired Kay Wilson in Jess Breach who stole the headlines with two astounding performances in the three-Test autumn series whitewash against Canada.
Having lost the services of Wilson, and several key players who have been contracted to the sevens team since the World Cup – including World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year nominee Lydia Thompson – the England squad included several new faces for Canada’s visit. If anything, however, that seemed to make the team even stronger as Abigail Dow, Ellie Kildunne and Zoe Harrison, in particular, shone during the series.
But it was Breach who was the star of the show, scoring 11 tries in the two matches in which she featured. The Harlequins winger was simply unstoppable from the moment she set foot on the pitch, scoring with her first touch in international rugby and finishing with six tries in her first game alone, a record for any England player male or female.
She then followed up with another five the following week to prove it was no fluke, showing she has the pace, agility, strength and intelligence of her predecessor, Wilson, who scored seven times against Scotland in the Six Nations earlier in the year.
Breach’s sixth try was the one that stood out as she judged superbly a delightful cross-field kick from Harrison before leaving her opponents for dead and sprinting into the corner to cap a perfect debut.
Regular followers of women’s rugby would not have been surprised by her feats in a Red Roses jersey: she had scored four tries the previous week for Quins. However, even Breach was shocked at how quickly she took to the international game. “It was a crazy, crazy evening,” she said.
“I’d had a really bad sleep and Friday was a long day, and I was unbelievably nervous. But there was a group of older players who were able to calm me down. We had spoken about getting the ball into space quickly, but to score six tries is a dream come true.”
Christie in hot form ahead of Winter Olympics
Article by Olivia Shears
Elise Christie marked herself down as a leading contender for a medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics when she won her first World Cup short-track title of the season in Seoul, South Korea. A nomination for BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year followed hot on the heels of her victory in the 500 metres, rounding off an amazing year for the 27-year old speed skater.
Christie beat Italy’s Martina Valcepina and South Korea’s Choi Min Jeong to the line in Seoul to win in a time of 43.27 seconds. Having recently recovered from a thigh injury, which kept her out for two months, the Scottish athlete hinted that there is more to come. “It’s nice to know when I’m not at my best I can still win,” she said after the event. “I feel like I’m only 50 per cent right now and I won and I have two, three months to turn that around.
“If I can do this now, then what can I do when I’m at my full fitness?” Christie asked. If her form earlier this year – when she became the first British woman to win a speed-skating world title – is anything to go by, she will take some stopping in Pyeongchang. Her impressive medal haul at the World Championships in Rotterdam in March did not end at one title though, as she powered to three golds in the 1500 metres, the 1,000 and overall competition, as well as a bronze in the 3,000.
Following the World Championships, Christie described the huge relief and boost of her global titles after the heartbreak of Sochi 2014, when she was disqualified from all three of her events and was the victim of horrible online abuse. “The truth is, after the 2014 Olympics I was close to walking away from the sport,” she said. “I carried on, but really I wanted to escape and hide.”
Instead, testament to her talent, hard work and sheer determination, Christie will go into the Olympics as a multiple world champion. Her 2017 form has already earnt her the accolade of Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year, a nomination for the BT’s Action Woman of the Year, and now a BBC SPOTY shortlisting. Her victory in Seoul suggests that she is on track to peak at the right time this season. With growing confidence and a point to prove – “I used to think I couldn’t beat the Koreans, but three titles at the World Championships this year changed everything” – it would be unwise to bet against her for Olympic glory.
Ormerod underlines her Olympic medal potential
Article by Olivia Shears
Freestyle snowboarder Katie Ormerod started her Big Air World Cup campaign with a silver-medal winning performance at this season’s opening event in Milan. Despite being beaten to the top of the podium by Austria’s Anna Gasser, Ormerod had led going into the final run, an impressive display in which she cemented herself as one of Team GB’s most consistent performers on the slopes, and a serious medal contender for February’s Winter Olympics.
After finishing second in the standings last year, the 20-year-old was “unbelievably happy” with her latest result. Speaking after the event, she said: “I’m really pleased with silver. It really boosts my confidence going forward into such a busy and important few months.”
The months leading up to the Pyeongchang Olympics will indeed be important as Ormerod aims to take on both the snowboard slopestyle and big air disciplines. Big air makes its Olympic debut in 2018, and as a more extreme version of slopestyle with bigger jumps and tricks, its daredevil nature seems poised to capture global attention. Britain have only won one medal on snow in the history of the Winter Olympics: Jenny Jones’s bronze medal in snowboard slopestyle at Sochi in 2014, an event for which the then 16-year-old Ormerod just missed selection.
But Ormerod has a string of firsts to her own name. At the age of 15, she became the youngest female snowboarder to land a double flip, and after the disappointment of Sochi, in May 2014 she became the first female snowboard to land a double cork 1080 – three rotations with two inverted flips. Gasser later executed the same trick to win the big air event in the 2017 World Championships in Sierra Nevada, Spain, where a chipped vertebra after a fall in training kept Ormerod out of the competition and off the slopes until May.
Such is the rapid, ever-increasing difficulty in freestyle snowboarding that the challenge for Ormerod in the run-up to Pyeongchang will be to perfect her repertoire and remain uninjured. “I’m really happy with the tricks I’ve got, but women’s snowboarding is progressing so fast I’m going to have to keep up with that,” she said earlier this month.
But having honed her skills riding with her older cousin, Olympic snowboarder Jamie Nicholls, whose tricks she would mimic on holiday and at their local dry-slope in Halifax, Ormerod is accustomed to pushing herself on the slopes and is confident of her ability to claim podium places this season.
Centurion Wyatt makes her rare chance count
Article by Will Moulton
Not only did Danni Wyatt’s epic century in the final game of the Ashes secure a memorable win for England, helping to draw the multi-format series, it also looks to have resurrected her international career.
The Staffordshire-born player has always possessed unquestionable talent – scoring runs aplenty domestically – but has never quite been able to transfer that on to the international stage. Having sat out all the one-day internationals and the solitary Test in the series, and also missing much of the World Cup-winning campaign in the summer, Wyatt was recalled for the T20s matches Down Under with a point to prove.
Her maiden international half-century in the first T20 game was not enough to save her side, a defeat that ensured Australia would retain the Ashes. But it was a knock that caught the eye of the England coaching staff as she was promoted to open the batting in the next game. A promising 19 followed in a victory that kept alive England’s hopes of drawing the series.
But her innings in the final fixture was one of the most memorable in the modern game and should cement her place in the side for the foreseeable future. Chasing a record 179 to win after Beth Mooney’s own fantastic century for Australia, England lost star batters Tammy Beaumont and Sarah Taylor early on and looked set to slide to another defeat.
But alongside captain Heather Knight, the 26-year-old Wyatt masterfully tore into the Australian attack to pull off the most remarkable of victories, carving Megan Schutt in particular through the offside on numerous occasions and smashing two sixes.
She was dropped twice along the way, but that should not detract from such a superlative performance as she became the first English woman – and only the sixth in history – to hit an international T20 hundred. Furthermore it only took her 56 balls to do so; only the present Australian captain Meg Lanning has achieved the feat quicker.
“It’s a bit surreal,” Wyatt said afterwards. “I still can’t believe what’s happened. I was just focused on the ball really. I kept telling myself, ‘Focus’. Then I looked at the board and I was 95. I was, like, ‘Trev [Knight], what’s going on?’”
“To contribute to a record chase is a special feeling. It was hard sitting out for the ODIs and the Test match so I had to make the T20s count.”