As the opening ceremony in Rio edges closer to the starting blocks, Jen Offord continues her exploration of the top women who have made Olympic history.
I love the Olympics, I do. So much so that I once tried every single ruddy discipline. So what better way to celebrate the upcoming Rio games than with a selection of Olympic lady legends? You might use this knowledge in a pub quiz one day. You are welcome.
Picking up where I left off two weeks ago, please be upstanding for a second instalment of sisters doing it for themselves Olympic style – like Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox, but probably in a sweatier fashion and often with balls.
Canoe – Birgit Fischer
There are two disciplines under the Canoe banner at the Olympics: sprint and slalom, the latter which you will be unable to think of without humming the Hawaii Five-0 theme tune with some irritation, if you watched any of the London 2012 games.
But the undisputed lady legend of the sport is Germany’s Birgit Fischer – the proud owner of eight Olympic gold medals. EIGHT GOLD MEDALS. Oh and another four silver medals. As well as 38 World Championship medals – 28 of which were gold. Unbelievably, there is another canoeist with more world championship medals than her – Hungary’s Katalin Kovács.
Fischer, who competed for East Germany before reunification in 1990, announced her retirement in 2000 having somehow found the time to keep winning gold medals despite an unsuccessful campaign to become a member of the European Parliament in 1999.
But Fischer just couldn’t get enough of the Olympics’ love and came back to compete in the 2004 Athens games. Winning another gold medal, she became the sport’s oldest Olympic gold medalist – she already held the record for the youngest. Fischer is not only the most decorated German Olympian of all time, but the ninth most-decorated Olympian FULL STOP. Who run the world?
Cycling – Beryl Burton
The IOC, in its infinite wisdom, wouldn’t allow women to compete in any cycling events before 1984, knobbers. So in what will be my only middle finger up to the Olympics in this series, I’m nominating someone who never actually competed in the summer games, and that someone is Beryl “have a Liquorice Allsort while I overtake you, Bish” Burton.
Burton broke records over three decades, including setting a 12-hour time trial best in 1967 that surpassed the men’s record of the day, and remained unbeaten by a man for another two years. Burton’s 12-hour record (277.25 miles FYI) has yet to be beaten by a woman and she set her final records in 1981, just three years before participation was extended to women.
Fencing – Valentina Vezzali
Valentina Vezzali is not only dead good with a pretend sword, but also – in what appears to be an unexpected trend, this week – a politician, a member of the Italian Parliament for liberal centrist party, Scelta Civica.
Vezzali has an impressive haul of six gold medals – three individual and three team – for fencing at the Olympics, and is one of only four Olympians EVER to have won five medals in the same individual event, for the foil.
And, at 42, the 16-time world champion narrowly missed out on qualification for her SIXTH Olympic games, this year. There’s a Die Another Day joke here somewhere, isn’t there?
Field Hockey – Kate Richardson Walsh
Hockey remains a sport that invokes feelings of misery for many of us. Apart from the one when I knocked a fly out with a squash racquet, like a ninja, my memories of PE at school are of consistently standing in the rain wondering ifthe gravel surface of the all-weather pitch had been designed purely to inflict further sadness on me, as I picked grit out of a gaping wound on my knee or hand.
I reckon anyone who can look beyond that misery to forge a career in hockey deserves an inordinate amount of respect for the “glass half-full” mentality they must surely have.
As Great Britain’s most capped female hockey player, Kate Richardson Walsh must have endured a lot of all-weather pitch injuries over the years. Not least, while competing in the 2012 Olympics when she had her jaw fractured in the team’s opening match and was playing a week later to see the side land third place on the podium.
Richardson-Walsh returns to the pitch aged 36 for the Rio games alongside her wife Helen for their fourth Olympic games and SURELY a decent crack at that elusive gold…
Football – Abby Wambach
Football at the Olympics is apparently the sporting equivalent of women’s suffrage in Switzerland – my mouth agape and eyebrows raised as I discovered there was no women’s competition until 1996.
Suffrage in Switzerland can, in fairness, claim to be 25 years more progressive than football at the Olympics. Still, the sport’s world governing body FIFA (also based in Switzerland FYI) has clearly already well established that there’s no place for democracy in football.
Another sad story for football at the Olympics is the absence of a team representing Great Britain – and here’s another middle finger – deprived of this monumental stage for women’s sports simply because the respective football associations of England, Wales and Scotland can’t put their handbags away for long enough to realise their power struggle is not the most important thing here.
Team GB aside, there’s some huge talent in a sport currently experiencing a stellar rise, for example Brazil’s Marta, a five-time FIFA player of the year, even Pele thinks she’s the nuts.
Still, it’s hard to argue with the credentials of the top international goalscorer of women’s association football, Abby Wambach of the United States, who also has a World Cup, Ballon d’Or AND two Olympic gold medals to her name.
Golf – Lydia Ko
To be considered fit for the Olympics, a sport has to meet all sorts of terribly important criteria, like how many countries the sport is played in and how many Twitter followers its various bodies have.
Inexplicably, golf met all the relevant criteria to find itself included in this year’s summer games in Rio. And now none of the pros want to go! It’s like Brexit all over again.
OK, well none of the guys want to go, citing Zika as a risk they just don’t want to take. The ladies who are arguably more at risk, seem to be alright with it, presumably because they need the platform more than the men.
In the absence of Olympic legends, this being a new sport and all, Lydia Ko, the South Korean born New Zealand golfer and current world No.1 will be one to watch. At 19 years old she’s the youngest double major winner in the history of the golf since Scotsman Thomas Morris back in 1869.4602 Views
Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen