Former Olympic sprinter Jeanette Kwakye pulls no punches in her admiration for multi boxing champion Nicola Adams, one of the contenders for the BT Sports Action Woman of the Year Award 2016. In addition to her exploits inside the ring, Adams also has a winning personality, according to her supporter for the prestigious annual prize.
The Mixed Zone is publishing a series of articles backing each of the 10 athletes nominated for the title, the winner being announced during the Action Woman of the Year Awards Show, presented by Clare Balding, on BT Sport on Monday, December 12.
The winner, from an outstanding list of sporting performances by British female athletes in 2016, will be decided by public vote. For details of how you can cast your vote, plus the full list of nominees, CLICK HERE
I experienced the mega-watt smile of Nicola Adams way before she announced herself to the world in 2012. Admittedly, it was an encounter I only remembered after seeing her in the boxing ring in London as she celebrated her first Olympic gold medal. That first meeting had been back in 2009 in the physiotherapy room at the Lee Valley high-performance centre when an injured Adams walked in behind our Olympic sports doctor, Mike Loosemore. He introduced us briefly before they disappeared for her treatment. The next time I saw her she was an Olympic champion.
Little did I know that seven years later, in 2016, that smile, persona and flyweight frame would be so recognisable and mean so much to so many.
Adams personifies plenty of things, all of them essential when discussing the social impact of sport in the UK. Two Olympic gold medals, European, world and Commonwealth titles mean that Adams is our most decorated female boxer in history. She has also become an inspiration to millions in the process, whether to get fit themselves or to face their own personal battles.
Adams’s personality oozes a confidence that is synonymous with boxers; however, it lacks the brash and arrogant tone that is sometimes associated with her male counterparts. Her personality is more measured, considered and fresher than your average boxer. Which is probably why she’s so likeable.
People often speak about Britain’s greatest sporting hero. I usually steer well clear of that conversation because I believe all our sports heroes are the greatest in their own right. However, I will push the boat out in favour of Adams in terms of what she has achieved despite the odds being stacked against her.
There is no doubt that as a black, LGBT woman, Adams’s intersectionality means she encounters challenges at a high level. However, her ability to use sport as a tool for acceptance and change is remarkable, especially as she doesn’t often speak out about those challenges.
When she came out as bi-sexual in 2013, there was no fuss or fanfare. She is quoted as saying she had “always been out, it’s just that the public didn’t know”. It is that nonchalant attitude that adds balance to the fire she produces in the ring. But, it’s also refreshing to see that if a high-profile sportswoman doesn’t see the problem, why should we?
Her self-assurance is something I admire, respect and, to some degree, envy. It’s a strong trait in Adams which is visible in every interview, acceptance speech and picture. She even has a tattoo of a lion with the quote: “I am everything I want to be.” That level of confidence should be bottled and sold in supermarkets!
A quick glance through her social media sites shows she has achieved a level of sports superstardom that only a handful can reach. Her sense of fashion, savvy tweets (complete with correct use of emojis) and overall aura make her iconic in women’s sport and instantly recognisable.
And it’s this type of new-age sports star for which the public, press and fans have an enormous appetite. Someone who can hold all the values of what it’s like to be a great athlete, alongside being a person with whom everyone wants to be friends.
A double Olympic champion should need neither introduction nor cheerleader to amplify her efforts in the ring. However, there is still work to be done, and with talk of Adams turning professional, I believe she will continue to elevate herself, the sport and its importance in society today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeanette Kwakye is a former international athlete who holds the British Indoor 60m record, and in 2008 became the first Briton to reach a women’s 100m Olympic final since 1984. Since retiring from athletics in 2013, Jeanette, a qualified journalist, has worked for the BBC and Sky Sports as a sports reporter as well as writing on women’s sporting issues for the Guardian. Jeanette’s latest articles