The October edition of the Action Women of the Month celebrates outstanding performances from the sports of cycling, gymnastics and triathlon, along with a double helping of taekwondo. The Mixed Zone writers Laura Winter, Will Moulton and Katie Smith review the nominations
Click on individual tabs to read more about each sportswoman.
Archibald shows she is Queen of the Track
Article by Laura Winter
Katie Archibald claimed her ninth and tenth European Championship gold medals, taking the individual pursuit for the fourth year in a row, as well as successfully defending the omnium title. To round off the month she was also first in the London Six-Day event for the second year, winning by fifty-five points from fellow Scot Neah Evans.
While track cycling is usually decided by millimetres and milliseconds, Archibald continued her dominance of the individual race, winning in Berlin by more than three seconds from Justyna Kaczkowska of Poland. Her time of three minutes 28.003 seconds in the qualifying rounds was a lifetime best, prompting Archibald to say: “Today I’ve had all the wins: I’ve beaten myself and I’ve beaten everyone else, so I’ll sleep happy.”
The 23-year-old world omnium champion also retained her European title, winning the tempo and elimination races to take the lead, and then keeping Dutch sprinter Kirsten Wild at bay in the points race to clinch the overall title.
Of her win she said: “It felt like a bit of a cheat last year when I won it for the first time. I thought, ‘Have I gotten away with it?’ So I’m really happy to come back and defend it.”
The Olympic gold medallist was also a member of the silver medal-winning quartet in the team pursuit, alongside Elinor Barker, Manon Lloyd and Emily Kay, to underline that she remains one of the most exciting track riders the Great Britain team currently boasts. Her combined efforts helped GB to third place in the medals table for the championships.
Archibald, who has recently signed for British World Tour professional team Wiggle High5, was clearly excited to be back in the velodrome after a summer racing on the road.
In her blog for Cycling Weekly, she wrote: “Track, track, track! Isn’t it just the best? The Euros really marks the start of the winter and with it the knuckling down into this ‘routine’ thing. It translates to living in Manchester to utilise British Cycling support and train with the British team. I see this element of our national programme, one facility where we all train together, as one of the big contributors to our nation’s success in track cycling.”
Charles proves doubters wrong with Ironman performance
Article by Laura Winter
Lucy Charles led in 30-degree Centigrade heat for much of the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run of the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, before finishing second behind Switzerland’s three-time winner Daniela Ryf.
The 24-year-old said: “In the last five miles my legs were screaming at me to stop and I was praying I wouldn’t cramp up. I kept willing my body to keep fighting that little bit longer, kept telling it, ‘You can do this; just think about getting to the next aid station, then the next’, until the finish line finally arrived.”
Once a top-ranked swimmer, Charles narrowly missed an Olympic spot in 2012 in the open water swimming 10-kilometre event to Kerri-Anne Payne. She was so disappointed she moved away from the sport all together before entering an ironman “on a whim”.
Charles’s story is all the more remarkable given she had not ridden a racing bike until 2014. In fact, so green was she to the sport that when she entered her first ironman she believed she could ride the course on a mountain bike and admits: “It was a case of having to learn to ride a road bike – but I just kept falling off because I kept forgetting that my feet were stuck to the pedals and I had to unclip before I stopped.
“So many people would laugh at me. They would say, ‘You can definitely swim but we don’t know whether you will be able to get through the other two disciplines’. It’s crazy to think that three years ago I couldn’t ride a racing bike and now I’m the second best ironman athlete in the world.”
A decent club runner as a youngster, Charles took to triathlon well, despite the doubters. In 2015, she won the 18-24 age group at Kona as an amateur, and with that came a professional contract. Now she has Chrissie Wellington’s record of four world titles in her sights.
“It’s incredible to even be compared to her because she is a huge hero and icon to me. If I can be even half as good as her, and provide half the inspiration to others that she has to me, then that would be amazing.
“I used to think it would take me five years, but after what happened in Kona my goal is to do it in 2018. The good news is there is still so much I can improve on, across all three disciplines. I know I am only going to get faster.”
Fragapane benefits from the Strictly experience
Article by Will Moulton
In a record-breaking year for British gymnastics, Claudia Fragapane became the first woman to win an individual World Championship medal for seven years when she claimed the bronze on the floor. Her performance in the Montreal Olympic Stadium ended a drought that stretched back to 2010 when Beth Tweddle won gold on the uneven bars.
In a team missing several key members – including Sunday Times Young Sportswoman of the Year Ellie Downie, who became the first British woman to win European all-around gold in March – the pressure was on the likes of Fragapane to step up. She did so by returning to the sort of form shown at the start of her career when she made history during a remarkable week at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Things had been tough for Fragapane since she picked up those four gold medals in Glasgow. She made a disappointing Olympic debut last year in which she suffered a couple of untimely falls and failed to make any individual finals. She decided to take some time out after Rio and appeared on Strictly Come Dancing, a competition in which she shone and finished fourth.
The experience gave Fragapane a new lease of life, and the gymnast credits her time on the show for a dramatic increase in confidence. “Strictly helped me fall back in love with gymnastics because I was so crushed with what happened in Rio,” the Bristol-born athlete said. “I needed to take a break and get some breathing space. Doing the programme allowed me to do that. I’m so grateful to all the people who helped me come back and achieve this bronze medal.”
Coping with the pressure of competing on the Strictly dancefloor certainly translated to her performance in the final as she recovered fantastically from a mistake on her very first tumble to finish on the podium. The medal was the perfect early birthday present for Fragapane, who is now 20, but she says she is not done yet and wants to add more to her collection.
“It is going to do wonders for my own career,” she said. “I’m not a massively confident person, so this will show me that I deserve to be in this company. It’s undoubtedly the best moment of my career, but hopefully now there will be so many more to come.”
Truesdale gets her hand on world gold at last
Article by Will Moulton
Amy Truesdale cruised to a stunning gold medal at the Para-taekwondo World Championships in London, reclaiming the K44 +58-kilogram title she was awarded back in 2014. However, in a twist in the tale, it was the first time she had actually won a world final bout after losing to Lisa Standeven three years ago.
Her Canadian opponent, though, was subsequently deemed ineligible for the category, so 28-year-old Truesdale was upgraded to gold. Yet she was never given the medal which, combined with coming out on top here in front of a large Copper Box Arena crowd, make this victory even more special.
“I’m absolutely made up!” she said. “This gold medal has got to be the best of my career. It’s definitely got to be the most memorable one in my favourite competition. It was quite surreal because I’m not used to those sorts of crowds. It was the first time I have competed with such big home support. It’s really good for the rest of the team to get the exposure too because they deserve it.”
The victory was never in doubt for the world No1 as she thrashed Brazil’s Debora Menezes 21-1 in the quarter-finals before dominating Seyma Nur Emeksiz of Turkey 23-4 in the semi-finals. She then led 17-3 in the final against Rajae Ajkermach before the Moroccan retired with injury, handing Truesdale the gold to add to world bronzes from 2009 and 2015.
Para-taekwondo will make its Paralympic Games debut at Tokyo 2020 with Truesdale’s category selected as one of six to be contested. The world champion admits she cannot wait to begin the journey to appear on the mat in Japan in three years’ time.
“Over the next couple of years I need to keep working hard and keep accumulating ranking points so that I can qualify,” she says. “It would be absolutely amazing to compete at a Paralympic Games. I’d be one of the first people to compete in the sport at that level, and that would be incredibly special.”
Champion Williams is still looking to improve
Article by Katie Smith
Lauren Williams was one of countless sports enthusiasts inspired by the emotional and courageous performance of British taekwondo star Jade Jones at London 2012. Yet unlike most who remained resolutely fastened to their armchairs, Williams pursued her idol, and switched from kickboxing to taekwondo. Now, five years on, the Welsh 18-year-old has claimed her best global senior result, winning the World Taekwondo Grand Prix title in the -67kg final.
Williams is an exciting addition to the nation’s ambitious and successful taekwondo squad, known for her relentless aggression on the mat and in the gym, and her humble appeal away from it. Already a two-time junior champion, as well as clinching the gold at the 2016 senior European Championships, Lauren Williams possesses a blend of ambition and confidence alongside a meticulous, continual assessment of how she can improve.
In the same sentence that outlines her ambition “to be Olympic champion and hopefully do it with Jade in 2020”, she also admits: “I’ve watched some of the [Grand Prix] fights back through and picked up loads of mistakes – so although I won a gold medal I can still improve a lot.”
Having faltered in the quarter-finals of the World Championships in June, her Grand Prix title is also a sign of her increasing maturity as an athlete and her ability to bounce back from disappointment.
Speaking after the event in London, Williams said: “At the worlds I think I doubted myself too much and I put too much pressure on myself. But at this competition I didn’t put anyone above me and I said to myself, ‘I’m just going to enjoy it. I don’t really care about the outcome, I just want to put a better performance in regardless of who I come up against. I’m just going to try my best’.”
Not only did she win, but she won in style – seeing off world No1 and reigning world champion Nur Tatar in the quarter-finals; the London 2012 bronze medallist Paige MacPherson in the semis, before annihilating former world champion Ruth Gbagbi in the final, winning 43-23.
The teenager was stunned by her own gritty path to gold. “It’s such a big competition, I’m lost for words. The girls that I beat are up there. They’re world champions, they’re Olympians, so to beat them that’s a massive confidence-boost for myself.”
Her stellar performances also caught the eye of two-time Olympic champion and heroine-turned-team-mate Jade Jones, who has singled out the young fighter as one to watch. Jones said: “Lauren’s already beating some of the best out there, and is going to continue improving and be one of the greatest fighters in her division.”