In the spirit of the season, The Mixed Zone has invited a star-studded array of our greatest female athletes and many of our regular contributors to select their Greatest Women’s Sporting Moment of 2015 – on or off the pitch. Just as importantly, they have to justify their choice. The only stipulation is that they cannot nominate from within their own sport. Most managed to abide by the rule …
THE GREATEST BY THE GREATEST
Jessica Ennis-Hill – Olympic and world heptathlon champion
Who: Lizzie Armitstead.
What: Becoming the World Road Race champion.
Why: She is the ultimate competitor and has such an amazing determination. She raced tactically and kept her race plan right until she crossed the line. You could see from her face how much it meant to her and to top it all she is just a lovely person.
Nicola Adams – Olympic, European and Commonwealth boxing champion
Who: Jessica Ennis-Hill.
What: For winning the heptathlon at the World Championships in Beijing in summer 2015.
Why: It was only 13 months after Jess had given birth to her son Reggie and I watched it all the way through. I thought it was really good what she achieved. Coming back after having a baby, coming back into training and then going and winning the gold medal. I was really happy for her, I was really proud. I talk to Jess a lot – we train together at the Institute of Sport in Sheffield and I knew she was training really hard at the time for the World Championships. I was hoping she’d be able to go and get the gold that she wanted and she managed to do it.
Gail Emms – Olympic badminton silver medallist
What: Hats off to the genius who created the ‘What If Male Sports Stars Were Asked The Same Questions As Female Athletes’. (You can watch it on YouTube.)
Why: It’s hilarious, but so thought-provoking. Seriously. It’s the look of complete disbelief and befuddlement as these male sports stars are asked things like: “Any response to the recent comments about your girlish figure?” or “Have you heard the controversy about your helmet hair?” A personal favourite: “Can you give us a twirl and tell us about your outfit?” And then, superimposed over footage of Wayne Rooney: “I wonder if his dad said to him when he was younger, ‘You’re never going to be a looker … so you’re going to have to compensate for that’?” All the sexist rubbish that female athletes have to cope with captured and exposed right there.
Who: Sophia Warner.
What: Using her background in marketing and elite sport, ex-sprinter Sophia set up Tribal Series, the UK’s first mass participation disability sporting event. Taking the concept of triathlon, the event encouraged absolutely everyone to take part by varying the distances, excepting any method/equipment to be able to participate and introducing relays with able-bodied competitors, male and female – the true meaning of integration.
Why: To me, this is the real legacy of the London Paralympics. Not every disabled person is a Paralympian. We should be encouraging sport to have fun and keep fit, no matter the ability. Sport enhances life and teaches skills fundamental in other areas of life – everyone should have this opportunity, which is limited if you have a disability. So I jumped at the chance to take part at Dorney Lake in my recumbent tricycle (which I use to keep fit for riding, but is not included as an event in the Paralympics), with another Para rider, Erin Orford, as swimmer and my able-bodied boyfriend as runner. I LOVED it, and Tribal Series are putting on other events in 2016.
Who: Lizzie Armitstead.
What: Winning the World Road Race Championship for the first time.
Why: No wonder she burst into tears at the end. It was one of the most thrilling races I’ve ever seen and it all came down to the wire at the end. After a long and such a tactical race, with such a big pack still in the running, Lizzie made it by the width of a wheel. To go so fast and for so long and still have enough endurance for winning burst at the end made it the moment of the year for me. Speaking as someone who was on a training run up Devon hills today, I have the greatest respect for her stamina.
Jenny Jones – Olympic snowboard medallist
Who: England women’s football team.
What: Their performance throughout the World Cup.
Why: True team players, coming back after a tough defeat against Japan, to then gain third overall from their win against Germany. After everything that had happened before it was true guts and belief in each other. I have the greatest respect for them and their sporting ability.
Rachel Atherton – world downhill mountain bike champion
Who: Michelle Payne.
What: First woman jockey to win the Melbourne Cup.
Why: The most spine-tingling moment of 2015 – I was like “Hell yeah”. It’s one thing for women to do bad-ass sports and I totally applaud it – you know how passionate I am about women getting out there and getting involved – but this was extra special. She beat all the guys! That’s really significant for me because at events this year, riding better than I ever have in my life, my times are just breaking into the men’s world top 80 for the first time.
Who: Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Team.
What: Winning a history-making bronze medal at the World Championships in Glasgow.
Why: Watching a group of talented, driven and ambitious young women come together to make sporting history for Great Britain was exceptional. It reminded me of the British hockey team’s history-making feats over the years and I shed more than a few tears watching them win that bronze. The example they set for young children around the country is outstanding and I look forward to watching them make more history in the coming years.
Who: England women’s hockey team.
What: Euro 2015 winners.
Why: A couple of reasons, I can completely appreciate the relief of winning a tournament that you have wanted for more than 14 years. But I think to come back from 2-0 against the world and Olympic champions [Holland] was amazing. Then to go and beat them in flicks was a just a great ending to the game. Seeing Maddie Hinch looking at her notes showed how crucial preparation is in elite sport.
Who: Oxford and Cambridge Varsity rugby teams.
What: The first time the match has been played at Twickenham and shown on the BBC red button.
Why: I know I’m not allowed to pick my own sport, but as I’ve retired and took up shot putt this year it seems fair to me. The reason the Varsity Match is – personally – such a defining moment is that it dramatises the rise of women’s rugby in Britain that has been happening ever since our World Cup win in 2014. It wasn’t the score that made it special – with a dominant eight-try display from Cambridge (with hat tricks from a post-grad doctor and a student vet) – it was the principle. It’s a sign of how far women’s rugby has come – and how far we need to go.
Who: Holly Holm.
What: The punch (and kick) that knocked out massive favourite Ronda Rousey in the UFC Bantamweight title fight.
Why: That was the moment of the year for me. The second round knockout was such a stunning shock after Rousey’s domination of the sport for such a long time. But it wasn’t just that somebody needed to shut Ronda up, it was the crushing manner of her defeat. Holm broke her jaw in three places – and yet she was such an underdog going into the fight. That’s what made it special. It was a reminder, if we ever needed it, that there is no such as a certainty. Performance isn’t permanent. You’ve got to be on it. Always. That’s something I always stress to my teams. Plus, I loved the fact that UFC has been such a male-dominated sport. Now look it. The biggest story of the year was about women.
Clare Balding – sports broadcaster
Who: Oxford and Cambridge Women’s Boat Race crews.
What: The first Women’s Boat Race to be run over the same course, and on the same day, as the men’s race.
Why: If the most traditional and elitist sporting event can embrace equality, anything is possible.
Who: Laura Bassett.
What: Her beaming smile as she celebrated victory over Germany with her precious, hard-earned bronze medal round her neck (see photo).
Why: I was just so happy for her after the utter despair she felt as a result of the semi-final own goal against Japan. She was so unlucky that day and was devastated because she felt she had let people down. The unexpected first ever victory over Germany meant she and England finished on a real high.
Anna Kessel – Guardian & Observer sports journalist
Who: Jessica Ennis-Hill.
What: Winning world championships.
Why: Because so many people wrote her off after she became a mum. In the media coverage she faced all those annoying stereotypes that all of us mums face – will she have the hunger for it? Can she ever get back in shape? She did. Only 13 months after giving birth to Reggie, and despite injuries, she came back and blew us all away. It gave me goosebumps watching her. And as a mum it was even more special knowing that she’d done it while making Reggie the centre of her life.
Who: Michelle Payne.
What: Winning the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s biggest horse race – the first women to do so in its 155-year history and only the fourth woman to ever ride in the race. Coincidentally she raced in the colours of the suffragette movement: purple, green and white.
Why: Against all odds – the horse she was riding, Prince of Penzance, was a 100-1 shot (based on previously poor performances), making this an even greater sporting feat and surprising the bookmakers. The victory also surprised fellow male jockeys, shattering their cosy world, where in Australia men are overwhelmingly offered the best horses for a race.
After the race Payne hopped off and announced to the world’s media: “It’s [racing] such a chauvinistic sport, a lot of owners wanted to kick me off. Everyone else can get stuffed who think women aren’t good enough.”
Payne whose mother died in a car crash when she was six months old, was brought with nine other siblings by her father. She spoke out for other women in the sport: “It’s a very male-dominated sport and people think we are not strong enough. You know what? It’s not all about strength, there’s so much more involved, getting into a rhythm, getting the horse to try for you, it’s being patient.” Payne has certainly had to be patient. But perhaps now it may be paying off. She has been invited to race with female jockeys in the Shergar Cup at Ascot next year.
James Gheerbrant – Young Sports Journalist of the Year
Who: Katie Ledecky.
What: Winning the 800m freestyle at the Swimming World Champs to complete a clean sweep of the 200, 400, 800 and 1500m events.
Why: Katie Ledecky will probably never be a global superstar. Even by the anodyne standards of professional sport she is reserved and uncharismatic, and her sport lacks the explosive thrills to seduce the moneymen of TV and advertising. But in terms of pure, unadulterated sporting brilliance, she may be the best performer on the planet. Her extraordinary feats in Kazan – winning gold over distances almost a factor of eight apart and destroying two world records – set a new standard for supremacy even in a sport used to dominant individuals.
2016 moment: Sadly only three of Ledecky’s events will be contested at the Olympics, but three individual golds, plus another in the 4×200 relay, could still make her the defining female performer of the Rio Games.
Who: Ronda Rousey/Holly Holm.
What: Rousey dethroned by knockout at UFC 193.
Why: You may not like fighting – still less warm to UFC, which can legitimately be called barbaric. But you cannot deny that it is now a billion-dollar industry. To see two women headline one of its most important cards of the year – even if you view it as unedifying progress, it is progress all the same for the perception of women in sport.
Reshmin Chowdhury – journalist and broadcaster
Who: The Lionesses.
What: Beating hosts Canada to a place in the last four of the Women’s World Cup.
Why: It was so exciting to watch and root for an England side who were making history and inspiring others with every move they made. Watching live on TV and seeing social media go into meltdown put the whole thing into perspective. I was immensely proud of their achievements as sportswomen – but also as women.
Who: The Oxford and Cambridge Women’s Boat Club crews.
What: For the unforgettable moment where, for the first time in history, the two female crews raced the same course and on the same day as their male counterparts. The Boat Race became the Boat Races on one of the grandest and most archaic stages of all.
Why: For 87 years, the Women’s Boat Race was consigned to the quiet, short stretch in Henley-on-Thames, or in the more distant past, on the River Isis or Cam. The men, on the other hand, rowed 6.8km from Putney to Mortlake on the Tideway, in front of crowds thousands strong and live on TV. But for Helena Morrissey, CEO of Boat Race sponsor Newton Management, enough was enough. Something had to change, and this year it well and truly did. With public and financial support and acceptance behind them, Oxford University romped to a six-and-a-half-length victory over Cambridge in the 70th Boat Race, in front of more than 250,000 people. But it was about more than the race itself, it was a landmark occasion for women’s sport. At last the women had done what so many had previously thought they were incapable of and history was made. It was a hugely emotional event and a significant moment for women’s sport. To quote the President of the winning team, Anastasia Chitty: “I never dreamed of being in the boat race because it was never an option. We’d go down to the river and watch Oxford and Cambridge battle it out, it was an impressive sporting feat, the race was exciting, but I could never stand there and say, ‘I want to do that’. It wasn’t an option for girls. Knowing that this year there will be as many young girls as boys watching the race and everyone can dream of being in it is really special.”
Amy Lofthouse – cricket writer
Who: Ellyse Perry.
What: Took nine for 70 during the Women’s Ashes Test to secure Australia’s Test victory and ultimately regain the Ashes.
Why: In a Test match that had its critics for its sluggish batting, Perry showed real skill and talent with the ball. She bowled with pace and accuracy to dismiss England’s top order and then mop up the tail. It was as fine an advert for red-ball cricket as one could hope to see.
Sue Mott – Editor, The Mixed Zone
Who: Loretta Lynch, the US Attorney General.
What: For the spine-tingling moment – decades overdue – when the top US law enforcer announced: “The betrayal of trust is outrageous. The scale of corruption is unconscionable. The message should be clear to every culpable individual who remains in the shadows, hoping to evade our investigation. You will not wait us out. You will not escape our focus.” In other words – the game was up for the thieves and rogues within FIFA, laughably described as world football governing body.
Why: How disgraced FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, must look back fondly on days gone by when he could advise women footballers to play “in tighter shorts”. Meanwhile, the awesome Loretta Lynch, the 83rd US Attorney general, only the second woman to hold the position, was quietly tightening her grip on the racketeering, conspiracy and corruption within his own organisation. Many of Blatter’s cronies have exposed as gang members in a cabal of corruption. Thanks to the meticulousness of an investigation she began back in New York in 1991, two waves of indictments have taken place this year and a number of FIFA officials have turned themselves in. When football’s world governing body is reconstituted – minus the rampant kleptomaniacs – it is inconceivable there will not be a statue at its portal in her honour and, more to the point, strong-minded, independent people – including women – to share the new power base. On their merit as opposed to the size of their shorts.
Liz Byrnes – sports journalist
Who: Katie Ledecky.
What: At the 2015 World Championships, the 18-year-old won the 200, 400, 800 and 1500m freestyle to become the first swimmer, male or female, to complete the quad. She also claimed gold in the 4x200m relay to bring her world haul to nine – all the same colour – over two global competitions.
Why: Then aged 15, the American did not so much announce herself as send a shudder through the swimming world to shock the Aquatics Centre at the 2012 Olympics when she won the 800m freestyle in London, leaving Rebecca Adlington, among others, in her wake. Ledecky – who has delayed her enrolment to Stanford University until after the Rio Games – also holds the world records at 400, 800 and 1500m. Given the eye-watering times she has already recorded, it is impossible to predict what other-worldly achievements the teenager can accomplish.
Feel free to join the party and tweet your own Greatest Moment of Women’s Sport 2015 to @_mixedzone