The Mixed Zone’s Susan Egelstaff gazes into her crystal ball and makes ten bold predictions for the coming twelve months and pinpoints the female athletes who will be making the headlines
ENGLAND’S HOCKEY TEAM WILL RETAIN THEIR EUROPEAN CROWN
Team GB’s hockey team stole all of the headlines when they won gold on the penultimate day of the Rio Olympics. With every member of the team hailing from England, the national team is in good shape going into 2017. They may have lost their captain, Kate Richardson-Walsh, who retired in the aftermath of that Olympic triumph, but there are several experienced players who are ready to step into her shoes as team leader. England are reigning European champions, having defeated the Netherlands in another penalty shoot-out in 2015. With the added confidence of Rio, my money is on them to successfully defend their title in Amsterdam in August. And that will do wonders for a sport already on the crest of a wave.
SERENA WILLIAMS WILL BEAT MARGARET COURT’S RECORD OF 24 GRAND SLAMS
Serena Williams equalled Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22 grand slam titles during 2016. However, the past twelve months have not been the most fruitful for the American; indeed, she only won that one Grand Slam title. But at her best she remains the best player on the WTA Tour. She appeared crippled by nerves at times when chasing down Graf’s record, but now that she has matched it the pressure is off. That leaves her free to use her last few years on the Tour to cement her status as the greatest female player of all time. I predict that in 2017 Williams will win three major titles and move past Margaret Court’s all-time record.
NICOLA ADAMS AND KATIE TAYLOR WILL TAKE PRO BOXING TO NEW HEIGHTS
Women’s boxing has been limited due to a less that flourishing professional scene. The pinnacle of success for a female boxer was to become world or Olympic champion; male boxers used the amateur game as a stepping-stone to professional success, thereby fuelling the perception that women’s boxing was somehow inferior. However, this could all change in 2017. The best female boxer to have ever lived, Katie Taylor from Ireland, turned professional at the end of 2016, and Britain’s Nicola Adams has made the same move. With America’s double Olympic champion Claressa Shields also moving into the pro game, the next 12 months are likely to be ground-breaking for women’s boxing.
LYDIA KO WILL WIN AT LEAST TWO MAJORS
Lydia Ko is the dominant golfer on the planet at the moment – she has been ranked number one in the world for 82 consecutive weeks – but to date she has only won two major championships. After winning silver at the Rio Olympics, Ko experienced something of a slump in form. But since she is still only 19 years of age, this is surely not unexpected. However, after taking a month away from the game at the end of 2016, the New Zealander is likely to return to the Tour refreshed and reinvigorated. She is therefore in a position to at least double her tally of major championships in the next 12 months.
ENGLAND’S FOOTBALLERS WILL REACH THE FINAL OF EURO 2017 – BUT LOSE TO GERMANY
The Lionesses are currently ranked fifth in the world, and have brought women’s football into the spotlight in recent years. That is in no small part due to their third-place finish at the World Cup in 2015. They go into 2017 in a good run of form and the European Championship represents an excellent opportunity to win a major tournament. However, competition at the top of the women’s game is becoming tougher, and while I predict England will reach the final in the Netherlands this summer, Germany will exact revenge for their World Cup play-off defeat.
JOHANNA KONTA WILL CONSOLIDATE HER PLACE IN THE TOP 10
Johanna Konta had a remarkable 2016 during which she climbed into the world’s top 10. She began the year in stellar fashion, reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open, the first time a British woman had reached that stage of a Grand Slam for 33 years. However, her performance in Melbourne was not a flash in the pan, and the 25 year-old backed-up that result with a string of solid performances to reach a career-high world ranking of nine in October. The Australian-born Brit has developed a calmness on court that leaves her able to deal with the highest pressure. With the confidence she has gained, I predict that the next 12 months will see Konta become a mainstay in the world’s top 10.
KATARINA JOHNSON-THOMSON WILL WIN HER FIRST GLOBAL MEDAL
Katarina Johnson-Thomson has long shown potential in the heptathlon, but as yet she has failed to deliver when it matters. She excels in several events, but has huge weaknesses in others, not least the long-jump, which has been her downfall in major competitions. But the 23 year old has an impressively stoic attitude and is adamant that she will learn from her previous defeats. Jessica Ennis-Hill’s retirement means that all eyes will be on Johnson-Thomson to deliver when the World Athletics Championships come to London in August. But the experience the Liverpudlian has gained in the past few years will help her perform to her best this summer, and ensure she grabs a place on the podium to continue Britain’s proud tradition in the heptathlon.
The last few months of 2016 were almost perfect for Elise Christie. The Scottish speed skater won five World Cup gold medals, broke the 500 metres world record and became world number one. At the moment, the 26 year old is the one to beat. Christie famously went into the 2014 Winter Olympics with a realistic chance of winning medals in all three of her events. But she had something of a nightmare week in which she was disqualified or crashed in each race. However, Christie has bounced back in impressive style and she will go into March’s World Championships with a very real chance of becoming world champion for the first time. I predict she will rise to the occasion and claim at least one gold medal.
LIZZIE DEIGNAN WILL REDISCOVER HER FORM AND RETAIN HER WORLD TITLE
Last year started off extremely successfully for Lizzie Deignan (formerly Armitstead): she was reigning world road champion and defied the curse of the rainbow jersey to win five races early in the season, including Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the Tour of Flanders. However, the Englishwoman was caught up in controversy in the lead-up to the Rio Olympics when it was revealed she had missed three drug tests and only avoided a suspension on appeal. Her form vanished and her season petered out. However, Deignan is still a classy rider, and in September in Norway she has the perfect opportunity to move on from one of the low phases of her career by retaining her world title.
SIMONE BILES WILL ADD ANOTHER HANDFUL OF WORLD GOLD MEDALS TO HER COLLECTION
Simone Biles was the real breakout athlete of the Rio Olympics; already a star within the gymnastics world, her four Olympic gold medals and infectious smile brought her to the attention of the wider public. She is already being hailed as the greatest gymnast ever, and if she isn’t already then she certainly has the potential to be. With 10 world gold medals already won, the 19 year old appears to be getting better and better. Another four or five golds at October’s World Championships in Canada is certainly not out of the question.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Susan Egelstaff is an Olympic badminton player who competed at London 2012, as well as representing Scotland at three Commonwealth Games, winning two bronze medals. She retired in the aftermath of the London Games after a 12-year international career. Having written the occasional article for newspapers while still competing, she decided to try and make sports journalism a job. Susan is now a columnist and sports writer with The Herald, The Sunday Herald and The National and is a regular contributor on BBC Radio Scotland. Susan is also heavily involved with the Winning Scotland Foundation, a charity which helps children achieve their goals. Susan’s latest articles.