The women who are lighting up Rio

The Mixed Zone editor Sue Mott casts a wry eye over the first week’s action at the XXXI Olympics and offers her top ten most extraordinary women of Rio 2016 – so far

1. ALMAZ AYANA – the Olympic 10,000 metres champion who broke the world record by 14 seconds.
As words like unbelievable, incredible, superhuman were applied to the victorious 24-year-old Ethiopian, Britain’s top finisher and wise elder, Jo Pavey, remarked: “It’s a sad day when if anything good happens, you have to suspect it.”  The world record had previously been broken by Wang Junxia in 1993, a notorious member of China’s “Chemical Sisters” – a subsequently exposed doped up sisterhood from the 1990s. Gosh, and they told us it was “turtle blood”. However, the winner explained: “My doping is Jesus. Otherwise I’m crystal clear”.

2. BRYONY PAGE – silver medallist in the – what? – trampoline.
It is a sport largely new to a British audience as we’d never been near a medal in its 16-year history as an Olympic sport. Describing the principle assets of a trampolinist as being “a bit crazy or courageous”, the 25-year-old from Crewe only became a full-time athlete last year after graduating from Sheffield University (where she wrote her dissertation on dinosaurs).  This explains her secret weapon: “I’ve got a little dinosaur lunchbox that my brother got me as a good luck charm.” Makes it the best Olympic lunchbox story since Linford Christie.

3. HEATHER STANNING & HELEN GLOVER – the power and the glory continued as they produced their 39th straight victory and the most nailed-on gold of the Games for Britain.
The pair then collapsed into each other’s arms, sobbing uncontrollably, and that was just their boyfriends. Helen Glover’s husband-to-be, the snake-wrestling, shark-bitten, extreme adventurer, Steve Backshall was a mess. After one endearingly tearful interview with the BBC, he was left to swim ashore from his own emotional wreckage. Luckily, at their wedding, the newly promoted Major Heather Stanning, as maid of honour, will provide a solid bit of army-trained stoicism.

4. OLYMPIC NAN – wonderfully individual and gloriously symbolic of all the Olympic families.
She is very different from the limousine-hopping, caviar-spooning, envelope-thumbing members of the Olympic Family, who spend vast amounts of their lives, money, petrol and patience on hatching the greatest athletes on earth. Mavis, her name is, Nan to Team GB’s first Gold medal winner, Adam Peaty.  Tweets along the lines of  “oooooo so proud I’m bursting”, plus a barrage of emoticons on her @Mavise42mavis timeline provide the gist

5. KJT – it’s not easy being second-fiddle to the great J. Ennis-Hill but that World Record (for the heptathlon) in the high jump was a sensational statement of intent.
Her long-time coach, Mike Holmes, describes the Olympic competition as “like taking driving test, going to dentist, sitting a maths exam all at the same time”. That nerve-racking. At least she need not worry about her two pet dachhunds, They’re both checked into the luxurious splendour of The Sausage Dog Hotel near Luton.

6. ASHLEY McKENZIE’S MUM – saddest sight of the Olympics so far, the sprawled body and broken spirit of Team GB’s judo competitor, Ashley McKenzie, by a set of dustbins after his failure in the -60k category.
He posted the picture himself on Twitter @Ashleymckenzi12 (August 6). He took up the sport aged 11 after losing a fight with another boy for a Pokemon card. That boy did judo, so McKenzie’s wise mother suggested ADHD-afflicted son take up martial arts. It’s advice he credits as life-saving. Without judo, “I’d probably be in prison”. Latest news: he may continue to Tokyo.

7. UNKNOWN FIJIAN CELEBRANT – only heard briefly in middle-of-the-night interview on Radio Five.
The interview followed Fiji’s first ever gold medal from the Rugby Sevens final in which they were so sensationally dominant that GB – the only other team on the pitch – were lucky to come second. But pretty sure she screamed: “I’m so excited I’m going to run into a field.”

8. SIMONE BILES – the simply soaraway greatest ever female gymnast.
Her routines are so explosive you’re looking for the vapour trail has variously been compared to Michael Jordon, Michael Phelps, Michael Johnson – even people not called Michael. She doesn’t like this. It strikes her she is first Simone Biles. It should probably strike the idiots saying this, too.

9. KATHERINE GRAINGER – silver-medal rower in the double sculls.
She is probably one of the most solid manifestations of pure self-belief we have ever witnessed at an Olympic Games. Simple as that.

10. ALL THAT JAZZ – Jazz Carlin, double silver-medal swimmer.
When glandular fever and tonsillitis wrecked her chances of appearing at London 2012, Jazz (middle name Roxy, mum obviously a Bryan Ferry fan) Carlin was all set to retire from swimming in one big, understandable mope. Now the 25-year-old Welshwoman holds two Olympic silver medals – the happy sort of silver given that unbeatable, unreachable Katie Ledecky swims in her events – and a deliriously joyful comeback is complete.


Sue Mott is an award-winning sport journalist who has worked on radio, TV and the written press. Sue’s latest articles

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