Following a history-making, record-breaking, superstar-creating 12 months for women’s sport, we are proud to be able to announce the 10 contenders in line to be named BT Sport Action Woman of Year. The winner will be revealed live on the Action Woman of the Year Awards show, presented by Clare Balding on BT Sport 1, on Tuesday, December 1.
Every athlete or team on the short-list is backed by their own high-profile sponsor from the world of sport and entertainment, who suggest why you should vote for their nominee.
The winner will be decided by public vote, which closes on Monday, November 23. Full voting details are given below.
In 2015 became the world heptathlon champion just 13 months after the birth of her first child.
It was, she says, “definitely, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do – going to the Worlds and leaving Reggie behind for two weeks”. She sobbed on the plane out to Beijing. Then she mopped up – first her tears and then the opposition with formidable aplomb in the heptathlon. But the victory – by a significant margin of 115 points – came as a surprise even to the reigning Olympic champion.
“This is definitely one of the greatest moments of my career, I still can’t believe it,” she revealed moments after the concluding 800 metres. “Me and coach Toni (Minichiello) spoke about the bronze medal and that it would be amazing for a silver medal, but we never spoke about gold. I kind of thought it was a little beyond me this year.”
It was a victory of mental fortitude and belief as much as physical prowess given her motherhood break. Perhaps a new outlook was significant.
“Being a mum just gives you a completely different perspective to everything. I now come to training and I know I have to get as much done as possible. Because that’s the time I’m away from Reggie so I want it to be worthwhile. It also make you a little bit more relaxed. It makes you realise that if training and competition don’t go as well as you’d like, it’s not the end of the world. I’ve got this amazing little boy at home – and he’s my world.”
JO PAVEY, 2014 European 10,000m champion – and mother of two (so she knows about juggling domestic and sporting life): “It was so exciting to see Jess do so well after the birth of her little boy Reggie. She was truly amazing, she is an inspiration and a fantastic role model.”
Read Jess Ennis-Hill’s exclusive interview here.
In 2015 reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in Canada and went on to defeat Germany for the first time in 31 years to win bronze – with an extra-time penalty!
It was the greatest performance by any England team (male or female) since 1966. The on-pitch celebrations were almost matched by those post-match. “I think getting a selfie with David Beckham will be one of the greatest moments of my career to honest,” said England and Manchester City midfielder Jill Scott. This was during the homecoming, the raft of events – breakfast with Prince William, elevenses with the Prime Minister, an afternoon in the Royal Box at Wimbledon where – never mind the tennis players – Becks was on hand to add personal congratulations to his tweets.
This was the moment of liberation for women’s football. Men, women and children stayed up in their millions to watch the semi-final against Japan, so cruelly lost in the dying stages by one unlucky boot. They were glued to the gogglebox again for the historic victory over the traditional sporting enemy, Germany – perversely and wonderfully decided by a penalty from Liverpool’s Fara Williams in extra time.
For Steph Houghton, the captain, it was life-changing. “Being a Lioness is a special part of me now. There are very exciting times ahead. The World Cup was just a stepping stone to bigger and better things, but the 2015 highlight has to be the bronze medal. Just to see everybody’s faces, to know what we had been through two days before, the amount of emotion, being away from home for six or seven weeks, achieving what we set out to achieve – a medal, to try and inspire a generation of girls to play football … .that has to be a highlight.”
RIO FERDINAND, former England football captain and BT Sport expert: “The Lionesses were brilliant this summer, they fought as a team and showed passion and togetherness. They earned their bronze medal through all their hard work and they really got the country behind them, men, women, children, everyone. They’re the best thing that’s ever happened to women’s football.”
Read England Lionesses’s exclusive interview here.
In 2015 became the UCI Downhill world champion for the third time and dominated the World Cup series, losing only one race all season.
When Rachel Atherton won the Fort William leg of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in June, victory brought with it a mixture of joy and relief after a difficult start to the 2015 campaign. “I really struggled that weekend. I was crashing a lot, I had a terrible weekend and then I won and I was blown away. I couldn’t believe it and that was the point where I thought maybe all is not lost this year.
“I can remember crying and crying and my dad saying, ‘You’ve got to cheer up, you’ve just won. Go and talk to your fans, be happy, it’s amazing’.”
She had feared the worst. Coming second in Lourdes, France, at the start of the season was a grim reminder to her of the disappointments she endured in 2014. Glandular fever and its aftermath had affected her physically and mentally. It sabotaged her confidence despite her eminence in the sports as a double world champion and multiple World Cup winner.
Uncharacteristically she began suffering from nerves and throughout the season was sick before most races. But Fort William proved to be the turning point. From then on, the 27-year-old became unbeatable, ultimately claiming gold at the World Championships in Andorra.
“I’d say this year has blown all other years out of the water: a massive emotional rollercoaster, highs and lows all the way through. But those highs were absolutely incredible, the lows were almost incredible as well because it lets you get back up there.
“If that was it for me I would be absolutely ecstatic. To have this year under my belt, I’m a happy person right now.”
VICTORIA PENDLETON, Britain’s most successful female Olympian as a cyclist, now training to be a jump jockey: “Rachel’s achievement in winning almost every race of the downhill season is just awesome. I know how it feels to put everything you’ve got into propelling a bike round a track – and I didn’t have to worry about loose stones, mud, rain and tree roots, either. Which reminds me: I’d love to have a go sometime.”
Read Rachel Atherton’s exclusive interview here.
In 2015 completed a six-year adventure to traverse the globe by bike, rowing boat and kayak.
After six years and 25,000 miles, the Rutland-born adventurer has completed her London to London expedition – via the world. The adventure saw her cycle, kayak and row across Europe and Asia, the Pacific, the Atlantic and North America, before completing the epic challenge under Tower Bridge.
She became the first woman to row the Indian Ocean in 2009, has raised over £50,000 for four charities and was overwhelmed to complete her challenge.
“2015 has been an epic year for me. London to London has been an extraordinary six years of my life. I’ve been away for the best part of five years and so many people have helped me make it happen.”
The expedition not only tested Outen to her absolute limits, but also enriched her life enormously.
“I’m alive, and this expedition has shown me on many occasions that being alive is just the best thing and only goal to aim for sometimes. I love journeying, I love the challenge of it, the intimacy with your surroundings. It’s like a geography lesson, a biology lesson and a politics lesson all in one and you’re just continually getting stories and experiences you wouldn’t get if you stayed at home.
“One of the reassuring and liberating things I’ve gained from this journey, even if just confirming the idea I already have, is the idea there are so many different ways of living. I don’t have to follow anybody’s path or rules or trajectory. It’s one life and you are the only person responsible for making that as full and rich as you want it to be.”
JAMES CRACKNELL, double Olympic rowing gold medallist and adventurer:
“Rowing the Atlantic was painful, exhausting, mind-altering and not particularly enjoyable. I’ve often been asked whether I fancy rowing another ocean to which I instantly say ‘No!’ Sarah’s rowed the Atlantic, the Pacific – and kayaked and biked round the rest of the world. That is a commitment that goes way beyond just adventure. Hugely ambitious, risky, and physically challenging – I’d like to know how much she really enjoyed it!”
Read Sarah Outen’s exclusive interview here.
In 2015 became the British No. 1 and rose to No. 47 in the world, reaching the last 16 at the US Open and beating World No. 2 Simona Halep in China.
Before the US Open, Britain’s Hungarian-born contender had never progressed past the first round of a Grand Slam in singles. Yet in New York she defeated ninth seed and Wimbledon finallist Garbine Muguruza in a match that lasted three hours and 23 minutes, the longest women’s match at the tournament since the tie-break was introduced in 1970.
Konta’s ferocious form continued to the Wuhan Open where she rallied from 1-5 down in the final set against Simona Halep, ranked No. 2 in the world. Newspaper headlines, messages from Andy Murray and a change in outlook followed.
“I tried hard not to have any expectations about 2015. I do my best to stay in the here and now and enjoy the little things. My fear for 2015 was that I wouldn’t be able to find this ‘zen place’ and I thought, ‘Oh no, what if I’m not going to become Buddha!’ Because my mental coach always says to me, ‘Oh, you’re like Buddha now’, but I’m not, I’m actually really not!
“Going into 2015 I was just looking to be happy. I lost my way a bit for a couple of years in terms of why I was playing the sport and why I was putting in the effort day in day out. As clichéd as it sounds I did a fair but of soul-searching and had a lot of stern conversations with myself.”
Her victory over Halep, she discovered in the press conference afterwards, was the first time a British woman had beaten a world No. 2 in 34 years. Right back to Sue Barker’s days. “It was special when I heard it, but afterwards I moved on from it. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking, ‘Yes! First Brit in 34 years to beat the world No. 2!’”
JUDY MURRAY, tennis coach and captain of the Britain Federation Cup Tennis team (which includes Konta): “Jo’s had a real breakout season. As a tennis player, she is incredibly professional and disciplined with a huge work ethic, and it’s been great to see her maximising her potential. As a person, she’s a gem. Polite, friendly, fun and a big fan of U2, the cinema and ice cream. What’s not to love?”
Read Johanna Konta’s exclusive interview here.
In 2015 became the UCI World Road Race champion, in a sprint finish, to add to Olympic silver and Commonwealth titles.
Going into 2015, Lizzie Armitstead had one unwavering ambition: to be world champion. “I wanted that one goal and I was willing to give up consistency in World Cup events in order to achieve it. But I ended up winning the World Cup, too, so that was an added bonus.”
The conclusion of the dream was far from straightforward. The 26-year-old Yorkshirewoman appeared to be out of contention at the start of the last lap on the course in Richmond, Virginia, nearly 40 seconds behind the leading peloton. But she hauled in the deficit and with an uncontainable sprint for the line became only the fourth British woman to win the world title.
“When I won it felt really strange. I focused so much on the process that I’d not really prepared myself for that part of the journey. It’s sinking in now, though, and it feels really special. I watched it back with my dad and it was so special to see his face.
“In sport in general, the Olympics are usually the pinnacle, but in cycling being world champion and wearing the rainbow jersey [the prestigious jumper given to world champions] is very special. I get to race and train in those colours all year.
“Last year one of the hardest things was not winning the world championships. I was in physical condition to win the race and tactically I got it wrong. This year I learnt that I’m capable of more than I thought I was. To cross the line and win – I felt shock, I felt relief and I felt joy.”
JAKE HUMPHREY, BT Sport football presenter: “There is a clue to just how brilliant Lizzie was to be crowned the UCI Road world champion. She started the last lap in 10th place and then won in a thrilling sprint finish. We always knew she had skill, but that took guts and nerve too. I’m proud to be her supporter.”
Read Lizzie Armitstead’s exclusive interview here.
OXFORD BOAT RACE CREW
In 2015 became the victors on an historic day when the women’s Boat Race was staged on the same stretch of the Thames, and on the same day, as the men’s.
Oxford triumphed by nine seconds and nearly seven lengths over Cambridge in the annual Boat Race, with more than quarter of a million spectators lining the river and millions more watching the live television broadcast. It was a landmark moment: Equality-on-Thames – when women achieved parity with the men on one of the biggest, most ancient and idiosyncratic stages in sport.
It was such a unique occasion, and a significant advance for women’s sport, that it persuaded Clare Balding to turn her back on the Grand National for one year to commentate on it. It was the 70th women’s Boat Race – and the first to have the benefit of sponsorship and visibility.
The female crew members felt they had been invited to a previously-invisible club, so great was the male support for their endeavours. “[The Boat Race] requires a huge amount of your body, and that’s another thing that makes it so special. It’s so amazing that women are now doing it,” said Oxford crew member Shelley Pearson.
“Men have known for a long time that the race requires that level of physical pain, but now we have gained a lot of respect from them for it.
“We were really fortunate that the men’s team were really on board,” said Oxford President Anastasia Chitty. That support from their male peers helped drive them on in the rough times, the dark, wet, exhausting early sessions before lectures when training to exhaustion was commonplace. “When your alarm goes off early in the morning, no one wants to get out of bed. I still hate them. But as soon as you’re out on the river, you forget all of those thoughts and you think, ‘Well, obviously I would get up to do this’.”
MAGGIE ALPHONSI, Rugby World Cup champion 2014: “To win such a high-profile race in sport is great. To make history and pull a huge cheering crowd to the banks of the Thames at the same time is even more impressive. When England women started playing their games at Twickenham I remember thinking how important that was for the sport. It was putting the team right in the shop window with your home crowd behind you. The same has now happened on the Tideway for the rowers. I am very proud to be their champion.”
Read the Oxford Boat Race Crew’s exclusive interview here.
In 2015 won the inaugural European Games flyweight gold medal in Baku to add to her Olympic and Commonwealth titles.
She will always be an historic figure in her sport: the first woman to win an Olympic boxing gold when she competed at London 2012. She became a standard bearer for a whole new attitude to women’s sport. It could have ended there, with the fame, the glory and the assured place in the record books. But the 33-year-old athlete from Leeds has continued the ascent, most recently with her gold in Baku which she marked with “a couple of pina coladas” and a meal at TGI Fridays.
“I am absolutely overwhelmed by the success I’ve had in 2015 so far,” she said after overcoming a shoulder injury to compete in Azerbaijan where she had the honour of being flag-bearer for the British team. “Winning the European Games was fantastic and I was awarded with AIBA Woman Boxer of the Year, which is amazing to get.
“The joy and relief at winning was really good for me: it was like a whole weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Got the gold medal, got what I came for, it was like, ‘Yep! Time to go home’.
“This year I’ve learnt quite a lot of things about myself. I’ve learnt how dedicated I can be, how focused I am and how determined I am to get back when I am injured. Anything knocks me down, I am always ready to get back up.”
JOE JOYCE, fellow GB boxing squad member and gold medallist at the 2015 European Games: “Nicola has achieved so much and it was just typical of her to come back from injury and win the European Games. She definitely deserves to be nominated for the BT Sport Action Women of the Year Award.”
Read Nicola Adam’s exclusive interview here.
In 2015 became double gold and silver medallist, as well as claiming two world records, at the IPC World Championships in Doha.
Georgina didn’t expect to be on the plane to Doha. A few weeks before the World Championships an old injury flared up and made the trip look unlikely. Her left foot – “a bit biomechanically rubbish, really” – had fluid on an old stress fracture site and that could easily have been that. “But I can’t thank the British Athletics team enough. They literally babysat me for seven weeks to make sure I didn’t do anything stupid. I’m one of those people who can’t sit still.”
Having made the plane to Doha, she then won silver in the T37 100 metres, gold in the T37 400 metres, smashing her own world record in the process, and rounded off with gold and another world record in the 4×100 relay. “You can tell from my face in the pictures, I was dumbstruck.”
More incredibly still, 2015 was the Surrey-based athlete’s first full year of competition. She gave up the sport altogether at the age of 14 when a coach suggested she could qualify as a para-athlete. She discovered at her official classification that she had cerebral palsy at which point she decided to abandon athletics and become “a rebellious teenager instead”.
But, fortuitously, a pair of tickets to the London Olympics, and the birth of her daughter Tilly in 2012, spurred her back to the track. “Now I completely embrace it. I love it. I’m annoyed it took me so bloody long.
“Doha was amazing. To be a world champion is a dream come true. I never thought I’d achieve anything like this in my life. Credit for success has got to be given to the team – the coaches, and Paul McGregor, my track coach. If it wasn’t for those people who put in the hours to be there with me down at the track, this would never have happened.”
GAIL EMMS, Olympic silver medalist: “I retired from Olympic sport before I had my two boys, so I’m in awe of Georgina, who not only competed so brilliantly in Doha but manages to fit her world-beating sporting life around being Mum to her daughter. It’s a great and inspiring story.”
Read Georgina Hermitage’s exclusive interview here.
In 2015 crowned European champions in front of their home crowd at Olympic Park, overcoming the World and Olympic champions, Holland.
With an incredible late comeback, surviving a sustained Dutch barrage, the England team landed the EuroHockey gold medal and joyfully obliterated the memory of so many near-misses in major tournaments. Heroic goalkeeping from Maddie Hinch in the penalty shootout sealed the most unlikely revival from 2-0 down with eight minutes of regular time to play.
For Kate Richardson-Walsh, the England captain who had famously competed at the London Olympics with a broken jaw, the greatest spur to victory was the unified conviction of her team. “I looked at the Dutch players and their faces were saying they had done enough, two goals up, they thought they had cracked it. With 15 minutes to go we thought we could take them, we had the belief and confidence in one another to do it.”
Having fought back to force the penalty shootout, she felt no fear for the result. “I had never felt so calm standing there with my arms around the girls because I knew how much homework Maddie had done in preparation,” she said.
“It was just a surreal moment and when Maddie saved the last penalty we all went wild. I couldn’t tell you what I did because all sane thoughts and common sense went out of my mind. We just jumped around, danced around and sang. I was back to being five years old, not 35 years old.
“All the team went out in their kit afterwards, which is a tradition for the winning team. But nothing was open on a Sunday night in East London so we ended up in a casino. Alex Danson discovered she still had her gum shield in her sock during the celebrations. It was a funny moment and one we will never forget.”
SIR CLIVE WOODWARD, Rugby World Cup-winning coach in 2003 and former BOA Director of Elite Performance: “The triumph of the England women’s hockey team this summer says everything about a band of women who believed in themselves, supported one another, showed huge determination, ignored the fact they were the underdogs, looked defeat in the eye and still forced their way back to win. It was brilliant to watch. They represent everything a team should be.”
Read England Hockey’s exclusive interview here.
Articles compiled by Laura Winter, Ellie Kelly, Megan Joyce, Liz Byrnes and Beth Shine.
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