Women’s sport is going from strength to strength – and about time. We asked our Jen Offord to point out the names we should be looking out for this year.
There’s been something of a changing of the guard in British sport in the last few months, with a number of high-profile male and female athletes, including Jessica Ennis-Hill, stepping down from service. With women’s sport going from strength to strength, here are a few names to watch out for in the year to come.
British track athletics seems to be having something of a renaissance, gathering a decent haul at Rio last year. Emerging from that are a number of youngsters who could feature in competition this year, but Laura Muir is a name we keep hearing more and more about. Muir showed real fighting spirit in the 1,500m final in Rio last year and perhaps gave us a taste of what more we could expect from her, despite not making it to the podium.
Eleven days later, the 23-year-old Scot broke Kelly Holmes’ British 1,500m record at the Paris Diamond League athletics meet, pushing her to the top of the rankings for 2016. We expect big things from her at the World Championships in London this year.
Honourable mentions must go to Hannah Cockroft and Katarina Johnson-Thompson. Heptathlete Johnson-Thompson needs to get a handle on her throws, but with Ennis-Hill hanging up her spikes, now could be the moment for the 23-year-old to step out of her shadow. Her 1.98m high jump in Rio this year set a new national record and was even a centimetre higher than the main high jump event’s gold winner.
Cockroft, meanwhile dominates the T34 wheelchair racing, picking up three gold medals in Rio to add to her two in London 2012. With a growing interest in Paralympic sports, we’re looking forward to seeing what more is in store for her.
Johanna Konta’s incredible rise over the last two seasons has dominated the headlines in terms of the British tennis scene, finding herself as world number 10 at the end of 2016, in an inconsistent women’s game where, apart from Serena Williams, it’s hard to pick any one other contender who stands out as the next big thing.
We’ll be watching her with bated breath in the Australian Open this month, but another one to look out for this year is Naomi Osaka.
Osaka made it to the third round of three grand slams last year – the Australian, French and US opens – impressive stuff for a 19-year-old, giving her a massive push in the rankings from inside the top 150 to finishing the season ranked 48th. Which you’ll recall, is almost exactly what happened to Konta in her 2015 season. It’s a great time for British tennis and Osaka’s 122mph serve could well add to the successes we’re currently enjoying.
Nicola Adams made headlines for slightly different reasons in November after she was left out of GB Boxing’s squad for the European Championships. Fret not, the two-time Olympic champ hasn’t left the ring just yet and is simply considering whether it’s time to turn pro; however, her absence from the national squad leaves space for other women to become household names, with any luck.
Sandy Ryan, the 23-year-old from Derby, missed out on a place at the Rio Olympics this year, but goes into 2017 with the backing of a gold medal at last year’s England Boxing Elite National Championship, as well as a bronze from November’s European Women’s Boxing Championships in Sofia.
With Heather Stanning throwing down her oars last year to concentrate on her day job of being a fully fledged member of the armed forces (because being a two-time Olympic champion isn’t enough for some…), many will have wondered what’s to become of her partner Helen Glover, with whom she enjoyed massive success, going 40 races unbeaten.
Glover could follow in Stanning’s footsteps now and decide she doesn’t have the appetite for another Olympic cycle, but if she does stay on she could be partnered with Polly Swann. Glover and Swann teamed up briefly after the 2012 Olympics, when Stanning was on tour in Afghanistan, enjoying successes winning gold in the World Cup as well as World Championships in 2013.
Swann has seen some success outside that partnership since then, including a silver medal in the women’s eight at Rio last year – the first medal a British women’s team has won in the Olympic event. Watch this space…
On a more personal note, while researching this piece I decided to check out the GB Judo squad to see if there were any interesting developments in this particular field, after Britain took home fewer medals at Rio than they did in London, and partly because I heart 2012 silver medallist Gemma Gibbons, who also supports Charlton Athletic and once said something nice about something I wrote.
I was delighted to find Acelya Toprak, a young woman I met during my daft Olympics challenge who casually threw me over her shoulder, aged 14, is now a member of the junior squad.
Coached by Mick Murphy – who also coached Gibbons at Lewisham Judo Club – Toprak was doing the business in 2016 with golds in European Cups as well as Commonwealth Championships. I remember talking to her mum when I visited the club, three years ago and hearing her excitement about Toprak’s progress – progress I will also now be excited to observe.
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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