In celebration of the recent International Women’s Day, and to acknowledge the #ThisGirlCan campaign, here are a few of the women that, during my sporting life, have made a huge impression on their sport, sport in general and attitudes to women and women’s sport.
Martina completely transformed women’s tennis, adopting an ultra professional attitude to becoming the best she could possibly be. 18 major singles titles, 31 doubles and 10 mixed make an unsurpassed total. Her 9 Wimbledon singles titles, together with runs of 6 titles in a row and 9 finals in a row make up the best performance of any tennis professional at any major event. Amongst the huge number of records she holds is a grand slam of all 4 major events in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. Martina’s first major championship was the mixed doubles at the French Open in 1974 and her final major victory at the US Open mixed doubles in 2006. Thus her major winning career spanned 32 years.
From a personal point of view Martina was the first female athlete to inspire me as a young sports fan and still does to this day.
Paula’s career looked to me to be another of the great British tradition of the plucky loser. Time after time she seemed to be run out of the medal by a variety of African athletes. The brave silver medal, of the 1999 world championship 10,000 metres, looked likely to be the highlight of a solid career. Some excellent cross-country and half marathon wins came shortly after the turn of the century including wins over some great African women such as Gete Warmi. Then came a decision to step up to the marathon!
Paula’s astonishing debut, at the toughest Olympic event, banished all thoughts of a disappointing career in one effort. Choosing to start her new career in London (2002) she not only won the race but posted the fastest ever time in female only race and the second quickest ever in any race. Later the same year she smashed that record by a minute and a half in Chicago. Overcoming Olympic games disappointment Paula claimed a major global title for the first time at the word championship in 2005.
Despite many injuries problems and set backs Paula’s marathon switch has ensured that she entered the immortal group of women who have pioneered and driven on women’s distance running. To this day she holds 4 of the fastest 6 times ever run and including 2hrs 15 mins 25 secs. The world record by over 3 minutes.
The pantheon of women’s distance running includes Greta Waitz, Ingrid Kristiansen, Joan Benoit, Gete Warmi and Rosa Mota, all of whom shattered myths about what women could and could not do at these events. Each inspired me, in their own ways, but Paula being British and turning around her career in such a dramatic fashion was simply phenomenal.
More correctly, Dame Laura Davies is simply one of the best women golfers of all time. 4 major wins and over 80 professional titles. She has topped the LPGA money list and had done this 7 times on the European Tour. As Laura hails from Coventry in the UK she came to my attention relatively quickly, turning professional in 1985 and has been around ever since. A member of the first Solheim Cup team she was ever-present until 2011 winning the trophy 4 times. She is also the record points scorer for the event. An enormous list of 1st to… includes winning events on five different tours in 1 year,US, Europe, Asia, Japan and Australia, She is still the only golfer to have done this, as well as having the most eagles in a season and becoming the first European player to be ranked number one in the world.
Another highly rare gift of Laura’s is the ability not to take professional sport too seriously and to be seen to enjoy all other area’s of life. Famously her devotion to Liverpool football club meant she was fined for watching one of their games on a portable TV whilst completing a final round of the Evian Masters. It should be noted however that she won the event!
Her ability to inspire girls and women to play the game and enjoy sport has been recognised at many levels but it as a golfer that she carries most impact.
Dame Laura will be inducted into Golf’s Hall of Fame in 2015.
It is possible that Cathy Freeman’s 400m gold medal in 2000 was the most pressured performance ever in sport. She was the joint favourite going in to the games but definitely the outstanding athlete in the final. She was Australian, at the Sydney Olympiad, and the face of the games. In addition Freeman always raced under the Aboriginal flag and thus represented two home nations on the same soil in the same race.
Cathy Freeman has inspired, men, woman, Australians, Aborigines, carers and countless others who come from or are outsiders in one aspect or another.
Her athletics career is remarkable, her titles are book ended by The Commonwealth Games of 1990 in New Zealand and 2002 in Great Britain. Golds were secured at both of these games as well as those in Canada in 1994. Two world titles in 1997 and 1999 demonstrated that Freeman could add global titles against all comers to her collection.
All roads then led to “Super Saturday” at the 2000 Olympics and what is regarded as one of the defining images of recent Olympic sport or history. Freeman’s constant use of the Aboriginal flag on her laps of honour but it being tied together with the Australian flag had a huge symbolic and actual influence within Australian society and beyond.
Following her remarkable efforts Freeman again took the less walked path, turning down hugely lucrative fees for running, or appearing, in order to care for her cancer stricken husband.
In terms of sporting achievement, and providing inspiration in both word and deed, there may be no better example within sport than Cathy Freeman.
This remarkable athlete demonstrated that almost anything is possible in sport.
After winning a quad sculls world championship (2005) and an Olympic (2004) silver medal as part of the hugely successful GB rowing team, Rebecca was forced to consider retirement due to a persistent back injury. She eventually decided to announce her retirement from rowing in 2006.
Soon after she took up cycling and made incredibly rapid progress. By the Decembe,r of the same year she retired from rowing, Rebecca gained a silver medal in her international debut at the world cup event in Russia. By the time of the World Championships in Manchester 2008 Romero won, not one but two gold medals in, both the individual pursuit and the team event.
To crown a remarkable switch Rebecca became the first GB woman to compete in multiple sports at a summer Olympics and the second woman in history to medal at two separate sports. The first to include a gold medal. Laying a foundation for a phenomenally successful team of GB women including Trott, Pendleton and Rowsell.
The multi inspirational achievements of Rebecca Romero seem almost fairytale like somewhat like the old time acheivements of Dennis Compton in both cricket and football, and yet are rooted in huge sporting talent and a fierce determination to succeed. The two GB teams of which she was part are two of our most successful ever and to rise to the top of both of them is stunning. If we were to compare it would be like seeing Bradley Wiggins or Chris Froome in next years boat race or at the Rio Olympics winning gold on the water.
There then, are the first five of a remarkable group of women who have achieved the impossible or transformed their sport whilst inspiring those of all genders, ages , nations and types to do similar. Five more to come …………..