Cast your vote for the BT Sport Action Woman of the Year Award from the shortlist of nominations announced today and listed below. The individual award, now in its fourth year, celebrates the ten most exceptional sporting achievements by British female athletes during 2016. The winner will be decided by public vote and announced during The Action Woman of the Year Awards Show, presented by Clare Balding on BT Sport on Monday, December 12.
Voting is via btsport.com/actionwoman or on Twitter and Facebook using the designated #AW16 hashtag for your chosen athlete – the hashtags are listed next to each nomination below.
This year, BT Sport will also present two new awards to celebrate women’s sport: Team of the Year and Lifetime Achievement, both of which will be decided by a panel of industry experts and athletes. Nominations for the team award, also announced today, are listed below.
Here, The Mixed Zone’s Laura Winter takes a detailed look at each of the nominations and recalls the highlights of their sporting year.
NOMINATIONS IN THE INDIVIDUAL CATEGORY
NICOLA ADAMS – #AW16Adams
After becoming the first woman in history to win an Olympic boxing gold medal at London 2012, this year Nicola Adams became the first female boxer to successfully defend an Olympic title. In Rio, the 34-year-old had to win three bouts after a bye in the first round in the flyweight division, and dispatched long-term rival Sarah Ourahmoune in the final on a points decision. In addition to her Olympic title, Adams also ends the year as world, Commonwealth and European champion, with a hint she may be about to turn professional.
Of her Olympic title, she said: “I’m now the most accomplished British amateur boxer of all time. It’s a nice title to have. To be honest, it feels pretty much the same this time [as in London]. I’ve had a massive amount of support from Yorkshire and the rest of the nation. I feel like I have all their support in the ring with me, every punch I am throwing.”
Not only has openly bisexual Adams had a huge impact on women’s boxing, she has also been named number one in the DIVA Power List of the UK’s most eminent lesbian and bisexual women.
Read more here.
RACHEL ATHERTON– #AW16Atherton
DOWNHILL MOUNTAIN BIKING
Rachel Atherton is simply the best downhill mountain biker of her generation. She has redefined the sport. This year the effortlessly cool Atherton won a fourth UCI Downhill Mountain Bike World Championship title to complete a perfect, unbeaten season, in which she also won all seven World Cups races. In fact, the 28-year-old has been unbeaten for the past 18 months.
Atherton is also helping to influence the next generation of mountain bike riders. She sponsored the junior women’s categories of the British Downhill Series, doling out kit and advice to young hopefuls wanting to follow in her tyre marks. She said: “I didn’t really have female role models growing up. I lived in the middle of nowhere. There was no social media or internet. Now when I meet other sportswomen, or read about them, it really does inspire me and I think, ‘If they can do it, I can do it!’ So just getting the word out there, really, telling your story, that can inspire people.
“I think in mountain biking we are pretty lucky,” she adds. “The prize money has been equal for a few years. Obviously with social media the way it is, it is fairly easy for athletes to promote themselves. I think the women do as well if not better than the men. Clearly there is still work to be done with some of the coverage. But it is something that is down to us as athletes, to show the media that we are just as ‘rad’, just as good to watch.”
Read more here.
HANNAH COCKROFT– #AW16Cockroft
When the 200 metres in the T34 category was removed from the Paralympic programme, Hannah Cockroft’s task in Rio was made a little more complicated. After becoming a double Paralympic champion at London 2012, the sprinter suddenly had to train for the longer distances of 400 and 800 metres. But that did not faze Cockroft, who won gold in all three of the events she entered in Rio, including successfully defending her title in the 100 metres. She has now won every major title since 2012, and has only been beaten once in four years.
Cockroft, who suffered two cardiac arrests as a baby and has cerebral palsy, said: “It’s nice people know my name. I’m on billboards across Britain. That is raising the profile of wheelchair racing and para sport.
“You just know every time you race someone new is watching, someone new is paying attention. That’s a really nice way to think about it and that new person might not know who you are. So that takes some of the pressure off if you’re helping someone fall in love with the sport. If you think of it like that then it’s actually a nice thing to be doing.”
Read more here.KADEENA COX– #AW16Cox
ATHLETICS & CYCLING
Kadeena Cox exploded on to the sporting stage in Rio 2016 when she became the first British Paralympian in 32 years to win gold medals in two different sports at the same Games. The talented 25-year-old won a gold medal in the Rio Velodrome in the women’s C5 500 metres time-trial before successfully transferring to the Olympic Stadium athletics track to claim another gold in the T38 400 metres. She also added silver in the T35-38 4×400 metres relay and bronze in the T38 100 metres before being chosen as Team GB’s flag bearer at the Closing Ceremony.
Cox suffered a stroke and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Speaking about the challenges she has faced, she said: “My message would be never give up. I didn’t give up at any point even when my classification was changed. When people told me I couldn’t do it, I never gave up and I’m here proving if you work hard and you have a passion for something you can get there.
“I was told I couldn’t do it a billion times during the Games, but I’m so happy I’ve done the two-sport thing and proved you can do amazing things. I’m glad I’m standing here as a role model showing people you can achieve these things if you put the hard work in. Initially it was a journey about one girl who wanted to go to the Paralympics. But over the two years it became something I was doing for everyone else. The reason I wanted to do it so badly was so I could stand here and show it can be done even if you have setbacks.”
Read more here.CHARLOTTE DUJARDIN– #AW16Dujardin
Charlotte Dujardin became the first British woman to successfully defend an individual Olympic gold medal at Rio 2016 when she won the dressage gold. She was quickly joined by the likes of Laura Trott, Jade Jones and Nicola Adams, but there is no question about the equestrian rider’s dominance. Aboard world record-breaking steed Valegro, Dujardin’s stunning round added to the silver the pair won in the team dressage.
Valegro will now be retired in a special ceremony at the London International Horse Show on December 14. Even though he is still young and at the top of his game, Dujardin said:
“Valegro is a once-in-a-lifetime horse and owes us nothing. I can’t wait to take him to Olympia and give him the send-off he deserves.
“I’ve been riding him since he was five years old. He’s and won everything there is to win. I want people to remember him as the most amazing horse that he is. It was an amazing feeling in Rio. I’ve had a really lovely time. I thought this could be the last [with Valegro], so I had to go in there and enjoy it. I think he knew I was thinking that because he really looked after me and helped me.”
Read more here.MADDIE HINCH– #AW16Hinch
Maddie Hinch’s goalkeeping heroics in the Olympic hockey final, when Great Britain beat the Netherlands on penalties, were watched on televisions across the country by nine million people, all enduring heart-in-mouth moments. It was an incredible team effort, underpinned by ‘Mad Dog’ Hinch, who was calm and collected, yet fearless in goal, a trusty notebook to hand and match notes scrawled on her water bottle.
Not only did she stop four of the Dutch penalties, she also made a number of saves in regular play to help Kate Richardson-Walsh’s side came back twice from the brink of defeat to level the match 3-3 at the end of full-time.
Looking back at her introduction to the game at school, she recalled: “I was apparently incredibly dramatic playing rounders, diving everywhere for the ball, and Miss Lambert told me, ‘We must get you in goal at hockey next term’. I had never even really heard of hockey, I’d never seen it or played it. I think as a new kid they nominated me because no one else wanted to put the pads on.
“At first I didn’t enjoy it at all. I didn’t understand what could be enjoyable about it, putting on 15kg of smelly kit and rolling the ball out to other people all the time. But I found out that there are days when you are treated like a hero when you have a good game, and now I love it.”
The 28-year-old has come a long way since then to become arguably the world’s best goalkeeper. After Rio she transferred to play for Dutch side Stichtse Cricket en Hockey Club.
Read more here.JADE JONES– #AW16Jones
Jade Jones has become known as ‘The Headhunter’, and at Rio 2016 the 23-year-old successfully defended her Olympic taekwondo gold medal in the 57kg class. Using her trademark kick-to-the-head, a move with which she became synonymous at the London Games four years earlier, she defeated Eva Calvo Gomez 16-7.
On the infamous kick, she said: “I needed to modernise because straight after London everyone was working me out. But funnily enough the same thing that won me gold in London won it for me in Rio. If you are good at a certain kick then use it. If it works, it works.”
Her coach Paul Green sees no reason why she cannot go on to secure a third gold in Tokyo in 2020. Jones said: “The Olympics will always be the pinnacle to me, but before I retire I definitely want to be world champion. I think in life you just have to find something you are good at. When you do, just go for it. Taekwondo is my thing. I want to do the best I possibly can and give my all to it.
“People don’t see taekwondo as a girls’ sport, but there are so many people doing it now. It’s just amazing. It teaches you so much respect and confidence. It’s great. Get into it.”
Read more here.LAURA KENNY (previously TROTT)– #AW16Kenny
In 2016, Laura Trott became Britain’s most successful female Olympian of all time at the Rio Games, when she added two more titles to the two she won in London. Now a double team pursuit and omnium Olympic champion, Trott proved fearless, fearsome and peerless on the wooden boards of the Velodrome, breaking world records and personal bests as she went. A generation of young girls are growing up saying, “I want to be like Laura Trott.”
To cap her golden summer she married team-mate and six-time Olympic gold medallist Jason Kenny in a secret ceremony in Cheshire in September.
The 24-year-old said: “I still feel like the Laura who woke up and rode her bike when she was eight years old because she loved it. It’s weird when people see me as this huge idol as it almost doesn’t feel like anything I could have possibly ever done.
“After winning again in Rio, Jason and I were saying, ‘We can’t believe we’ve done this’. It just didn’t seem like something we could achieve. It was insane. But I know the importance of girls having role models and finding the sport or exercise that makes you happy.
“I used to hate football and basketball at school. Nobody wanted me on their team unless it was my best friend who picked me out of kindness. I would just stand at the side, thinking, ‘Don’t even pass me the ball”. But I loved cycling. It gave me confidence and created who I am today.”
Read more here.
JOHANNA KONTA– #AW16Konta
Johanna Konta exceeded all expectations in 2016. Many thought she would merely consolidate her place in the world top 50, but Konta did not stand still and became the first British woman to reach the top 10 since Jo Durie in 1984. She was world 147 in June 2015, but after reaching the semi-final of the Australian Open in January, her stock continued to soar. During a sensational year, she has won the WTA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award, beaten seven top-10 players and only narrowly missed out on a place in the WTA Finals.
After becoming the first British woman to be seeded at Wimbledon for more than 30 years, the 25-year-old went on to win her first WTA title at the Stanford Classic, beating Venus Williams in the final.
Of her top-10 ranking, she said: “I know I have achieved something special when I am mentioned in the same sentence as Jo Durie.” Her predecessor, Durie, commented: “I don’t think anyone would have expected her to make it before Christmas. It’s such a short time-frame. For her to be outside the top hundred only last summer and top ten now, it’s a mind-boggling achievement.”
Read more here.DAME SARAH STOREY– #AW16Storey
In 2016 Dame Sarah Storey became Britain’s most successful female Paralympian, surpassing her ‘hero’ Tanni Grey-Thompson’s record of 12 gold medals. With daughter Louisa and husband Barney screaming on the sidelines, not only did Storey eclipse that number, she smashed it, picking up her 12th, 13th and 14th golds on the track and roads of Rio. She proved imperious, winning the C5 3,000 metres individual pursuit against team-mate Crystal Lane before picking up titles in the time-trial and road race.
Storey explained: “In some ways it’s like the heptathlon of cycling, you have to be fast, but you also have to have a lot of stamina and be able to climb hills. For me, the training was all-encompassing and very intense. With about six weeks to go to Rio, I started altitude and heat training which took place in a 30-degree altitude chamber with 13-14 per cent oxygen and 70 per cent humidity. On the track I was practising standing starts and focusing on specific efforts for the individual pursuits to be able to cope with the high intensity of the event. Then I was doing long road rides and long-time trial efforts, too.”
In addition, she has provided much-needed opportunities for established riders and rising stars of the peloton to compete domestically and internationally through her teams Podium Ambition and Boot Out Breast Cancer, as well as riding in UCI races herself.
Read more here.
NOMINATIONS IN THE TEAM CATEGORY
It was one of the stand-out moments of the Olympic Games in Rio. History-making, generation-inspiring, nail-biting, heroic stuff. The Kate Richardson-Walsh-led side beat the Dutch on penalties to become the first British women’s hockey team to win an Olympic title. It was the perfect swansong for Kate who, along with wife Helen, became the first married couple to win Olympic gold together since Cyril and Dorothy Wright in sailing in 1920.
The captain said: “To win an Olympic medal is special. To win an Olympic medal with your wife there next to you, taking a penalty in the pressure moments, is so special. We will cherish this for the rest of our lives.”
Maddie Hinch was outstanding in goal, stopping four Dutch penalties in the shootout. The match was watched by a Friday night audience of nine million on BBC1 – with the denouement delaying the ten o’clock news bulletin – and Hinch said: “This is exactly what our sport needed. We had a social media ban during the tournament so we didn’t know what was going on back home. It might have been a little bit intimidating if we’d known that nine million people were tuning in! That game had everything and I hope people will go out and pick up a stick. It’s onwards and upwards to Tokyo.”HEATHER STANNING AND HELEN GLOVER
Winning an Olympic title on home water is one thing. But defending your crown on an alien course requires nerves of steel. That is exactly what Britain’s rowing pair had in Rio, and that fortitude was especially required after a scare in the heats when Denmark almost ended their four-year unbeaten record. But at the Lagoa Stadium, Heather Stanning and Helen Glover proved they are peerless in this event. Even a late surge from New Zealand in the final could not prevent the British pair extending their run to 39 consecutive wins.
Despite the pressure of competing in their home Games in London, Stanning and Glover admitted the second title carried greater weight. Army major Stanning, who spent a year of the last Olympic cycle in Afghanistan, said: “I’ve been so emotional and that’s not me at all. This means so much more. We put an awful lot of pressure on ourselves.”
Glover said that as soon as she finished she felt she had earned the right to call herself a double Olympic champion. “Defending that title is something really, really special. The first time it was all new to us. This time round we crossed the line and we were Olympic champions, rather than realising it six months later. We both felt it more this time.”
Manchester City secured a domestic double, winning their first WSL title, with 13 wins out of 16, before beating Birmingham to claim the FA WSL Continental Tyres Cup. So significant was the final that manager Nick Cushing almost missed the birth of his third child. He just made it, but having to cut short his participation in the wild celebrations. But the City players could not totally let their hair down because they were due to make their debut in the Champions League a week later. It was a successful first appearance in the competition, too, as they reached the last 16 with ease, beating Zvezda 2005 6-0 on aggregate.
Now Steph Houghton, the City and England captain, has her eyes on the treble. She said: “The squad are in good spirits and we are very confident. We have been playing really well for the last 18 months. We know we just have to continue giving those same performances coming into the Champions League. We know it’s going to be tough, but this is the competition we want to be in and hopefully we can hold our own against the best.”GB OLYMPIC TEAM PURSUIT
The Team GB quartet won pursuit gold on the boards of the Rio Velodrome beating the United States in emphatic fashion. Katie Archibald and Elinor Barker won their first Olympic gold medals, while Laura Trott and Jo Rowsell Shand successfully defended the title they won in London four years ago. In addition, they broke three world records in three rides, lowering the mark to three minutes 10.236 seconds.
Barker revealed that the time had been set in stone years before. “Weirdly enough, the time was exactly what we were aiming for. We sat in a meeting room a few years ago and said, ‘This is the time we all think is going to win the Olympics, this is what we’re going to aim for.’ All of our training was towards those times. We knew the speed at the start that we had to do, but even two weeks out, or ten minutes out, I didn’t think we’d be able to do it.
“I thought it would maybe be an 11 or a 12. An 11 would have been incredible, so I can’t believe we did a ten. We didn’t really know exactly where they were going to be, but I’m really glad that America were going so strongly and we managed to beat them at their very best – that was a really special thing to be able to do.”GB PARALYMPIC DRESSAGE
The Paralympic equestrian team enjoyed their most successful Games in history, winning 11 medals in total, seven of them gold. Their medal haul was led by the dressage team of Natasha Baker, Sophie Christiansen, Anne Dunham and Sophie Wells, who retained their team title from London in 2012. The result means Great Britain remain unbeaten in this event since the sport made its first appearance at the Games in Atlanta 1996, as well as being undefeated at world and European level.
Five-time Paralympic medallist Baker paid tribute to her horse Cabral and said: “It’s just a dream come true. For our last championship test together, I think it was just magical. He deserves to go out with a bang and after the five Paralympic gold medals he’s won, three here and two in London, he’s a legend. It’s been an amazing competition and even more successful than London. To come here and do that, all that work has just paid off.”
Christiansen added: “I’m so proud of all my team. We won the gold team medal by twenty per cent which is amazing. It’s down to grassroots sport in the UK, through Riding for the Disabled Association and also UK Sport and the Lottery funding. It’s a massive level of support, so thank you to everyone who buys their Lottery tickets.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and is part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.