The star performers of January

ActionWomanAward_LogoTwo months ago the England Lionesses were crowned winners of the BT Sport Action Women of the Year for 2015. Who will follow in their footsteps this year? Here are the first five contenders for the monthly award, based on performances during January. The successor – or successors – to England’s footballers will be decided by public vote and celebrated in December at the Award Show, televised by BT Sport and presented by Clare Balding.

Photo credit: Jon Buckle, Getty Images Sport
Photo credit: Jon Buckle, Getty Images Sport

JOHANNA KONTA
TENNIS

Johanna was short-listed for the BT Sport Action Woman of the Year award in 2015. Now she is nominated for the monthly prize for January after making history in the Australian Open. She became the first British woman since Jo Durie in 1983 to reach the semi-finals of a Grand Slam tournament before losing in straight sets to the seventh-seeded German Angelique Kerber.

The 24-year-old British No1 said: “I’m just so happy that I’m enjoying what I’m doing. That is me living my dream. When I was a little girl, I dreamt of winning grand slams and being No1 in the world. That dream stays the same, I think, as long as you’re doing the career that you’re on.”

And the Brit, born in Sydney to Hungarian parents, had this to say when asked about her nationality: “Actually I am a tri-citizen. I’ve got a Hungarian passport as well. Just add that into the mix. I mean, I’m pretty much the female version of Jason Bourne. But I definitely belong to Great Britain.”

The Coxless Crew
Photo credit: ‘Losing sight of shore’

THE COXLESS CREW
ROWING

For completing the epic 8,446-mile 257-day Pacific Ocean Row 2015 – from San Francisco to Cairns in Australia – in their boat called Doris. In the process they set two world records: the first all-female team to finish the race, and the first team of four to row the Pacific.

Laura Penhaul said the last few miles were agonising: “It was a really hard slog the last few miles, counting down the miles was painfully slow. There were times in the last couple of days we had to row our guts out. We didn’t think we had enough let in us.”

But home comforts now await for the crew. Penhaul admitted: “I can’t wait to be home! I just keep thinking of my home comforts. When people ask, what’s the food of my choice, my Auntie Marie’s Cornish pasty is always going to be the answer. I can’t wait to get home and get a Cornish pasty down my throat.”

VP Mediaday-4VICTORIA PENDLETON
NATIONAL HUNT RACING

For coming fourth and sixth in two point-to-point rides at the North Norfolk Harriers meeting at Higham. The former Olympic champion cyclist is now on course to make her debut at the Cheltenham Festival in March in the Foxhunter Chase, one of the most prestigious races in the National Hunt calendar. With a fight-to-the-finish second place in a Dorset point to point at the end of January she took her biggest stride yet to Cheltenham.

Of her achievements so far in her new sport, Victoria said: “I wanted to complete in two races, that was the next mini-step. I’m really pleased with that. I feel everything is ticking along nicely and every step is a bit closer to the goal.”

But she added: “This is a ridiculous, audacious challenge. The biggest part of it is that I have gone from a complete novice. I have to be realistic; I know that all the best things take time, perseverance and dedication. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Laura MassaroLAURA MASSARO
SQUASH

For becoming the world No1 squash player for the first time. The 32-year-old is the first Briton to take top spot since Cassie Campion in 2000, and it comes after Laura decided to take a break from the sport just eight months earlier.

For Laura this was another step on the road to self-fulfilment, but there are still barriers to break. She said: “Having already won a British Open and a World Championship, it was probably the last box to tick, so for me it is absolutely massive.

“My goal is to play the best level of squash ever played by a woman. As No1, my level is obviously the best in the world at the moment. I just have to try and keep improving, so other people are looking at me as though that’s where we need to be and who we need to catch. That’s a nice goal for me to set my sights on.”

Elise ChristieELISE CHRISTIE
SPEED SKATING

Elise performed out of tight lycra skin to win three golds in the short track speeding skating at the European Championships in Sochi – ironically the scene of such controversy for her two years ago at the Winter Olympics when she was disqualified in all three of her events.

The 25-year-old from Livingston said: “Of course, I would swap the European medals for the Olympics every time, but that’s not an option. I don’t really feel any negativity towards Sochi now and the Russians are always really supportive in the ice rink. There were quite a few messages sent to me, and someone from the crowd also gave me a flower, which was really nice.
“It was harder than I thought it was going to be going back,” she said. “I didn’t really feel anything before I went out, but when you land at the airport and the Olympic rings are there staring at you in the face, that’s when I felt a bit funny and went a bit quiet.
“But the thing that really got me was standing on the start-line for my first race. I started to replay the last race I did at the Olympics in my head again because I remember the pressure I was feeling because of what had happened in my two previous events. And I also had everybody watching me. I had felt really scared back then. But I managed to switch off from it all and didn’t really think about it again until after the competition, and that’s when I got a bit upset.”

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 was 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.

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