It was once thought that women shouldn’t play sport. That it might affect their health and fertility, or the delivery of lunch to the household table in timely fashion. Either way, it was discouraged. Then various things happened, including 2014, when Britain’s greatest female athletes stormed to victories, medals, glory, attention and acclaim on ice, fields, courts, mats, water, vertical walls and immaculate horseback. The BT Sport Action Woman of the Year will celebrate those athletes in a star-studded awards ceremony presented by Clare Balding and shown on BT Sport on December 10.
The winner will be decided by public vote.
Voting closes on December 2nd. Take your pick.
1. The Commitment of an Action Woman
“I’m not allowed a boyfriend,” said Claudia Fragapane, four-time gymnastic gold medalist at the Commonwealth Games. “My Mum and Dad said no. I’m too young and boys are a bit immature. My Dad says when I’m 18.” So it’s full time commitment to her sport and fantastically-disciplined resistance to temptations not of mere boys, but the much more immediate lure of food. “Chips,” she said wistfully, before adding: “Fish and chips….Indian…..Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (Phish food)…or a big fat burger.”
2. The Humour of an Action Woman
“I’m known for being old, which is quite funny," said Jo Pavey, the European 10,000 metre champion aged 40. “I’ve got teammates half my age who say that I’m old enough to be their mum. Ten years ago I thought I’d be long retired by now.” Instead, this mother of two children is bound for Rio, with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy, optimism and nappy sacks, tirelessly supported by her coach and husband, Gavin. “It’s chaotic,” he said cheerfully, a fact supported by Pavey’s appearance on the Clare Balding Show this year in the make-up girl’s skirt. She’d forgotten hers.
3. The Focus of an Action Woman
“I do a lot of homework. I always make sure I’m in control,” said Lizzy Yarnold, the skeleton gold medalist at the Winter Olympics to no-one’s surprise given her dominance in the adrenalin-fuelled sport. Utterly focused to the point of obsession on Valentine’s Day 2014, the day of her final Olympic run, she now feels liberated. “I feel free of having to prove myself. I feel a bit more of a wholesome person.” But there will be no deviation into team sport. She feels more comfortable trusting herself. “I wasn’t really interested in being part of a team. They could let you down, which would have infuriated me.”
4. The Tempestuousness of an Action Woman
“I had a lot of tantrums,” said Charlotte Dujardin, who now owns all the major titles and a string of world records on her dressage horse, Valegro. The tantrums related to her fear and horror at the potential sale of her beloved equine partner after the Olympics. She won. The co-owners, including her mentor, friend and “husband without the extra bits”, Carl Hester, a brilliant dressage rider in his own right, decided to keep the partnership intact. Makes sense. “I went to the London Olympics thinking: ‘I’ll show Charlotte how to win gold’,” admitted Hester ruefully, “And, of course, Charlotte showed Carl how to win gold.”
5. The Command of an Action Woman
“I absolutely love the game, but sometimes I hate it,” said Charlotte Edwards, England women’s all-conquering cricket captain since 2005 and winner in 2014 of back-to-back Ashes with a personal contribution of 92 not out. Good news: it’s 99 per cent love. At 34 she abominates the very mention of retiring. “I live and breathe what I do. I wouldn’t be England captain if I didn’t.” So she laughs at the age gap between herself and the younger players, especially their reaction to her encounter with (huge cricket fan) Mick Jagger and the rest of the Rolling Stones recently. “The younger players probably hadn’t even heard of them.”
6. The Resilience of an Action Woman
“The doctors said I’d never play sport but Dad wouldn’t let that happen,” said Jordanne Whiley, the record-breaking, Grand Slam-winning wheelchair tennis champion who was born with brittle bone disease and suffered 26 broken bones in her legs during her childhood. But her dad, Keith, a Paralympian himself, was right. Nothing stopped the woman that Judy Murray calls ‘The Slice Girl’ in honour of her devastatingly effective backhand. “I was disabled at school, so I was bullied but Dad is an inspiration. I became a role model by accident but now I grab it with both hands. If I can, you can.”
7. The Uniqueness of an Action Woman
“I decided at four what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” said Shauna Coxsey, double World Cup winning boulderer, who was barely more than a toddler when she watched a film about a French woman free-climber, an adventurer who tackled rock faces without the encumbrance of ropes. “I guess I’m pretty unique. Not many three-year-olds decide what they want to do forever.” Good choice, it turned out. “2014. Wow. It’s been such an amazing year. I won my first ever World Cup, then won another one. I’m one of the first professional climbers in the UK. It’s surreal, overwhelming.”
8. The Humility of an Action Woman
“People have compared me to Jonny Wilkinson, yeah,” said Emily Scarratt, the record-breaking points scorer on the England women’s rugby team that became champions of the world in the autumn. “But I don’t think it’s a fair comparison. It doesn’t do him any favours.” The modesty reminds you of someone. Oh yeah, Jonny Wilkinson. “She’s good at everything,” said the England women’s coach, Gary Street, then remembers her pre-match renditions of the National Anthem. “Everything except singing.”
9. The Spirit of an Action Woman
“It was a very proud moment for myself and my family,” said Fara Williams on the occasion in August that she became the most capped England footballer of all time, men or women. A special achievement made more so by reuniting with her Mum after a long estrangement. Then came the bonus of being part of the Liverpool team that won the FA Women’s Super League title for the second year in succession. “Growing up was hard. I didn’t have any teams that I could play with. I’d play on my estate with the lads and with boys teams. I didn’t ever think I’d be a role model.”
10. The Teamwork of an Action Woman
“2014 was Heather’s return to rowing and it was quite difficult,” said Helen Glover of her rowing partner, army captain Heather Stanning, who resumed the sport after a tour of duty in Afghanistan with the 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery. We can gather how difficult by the outcome. “We were unbeaten, got a world record and become World Champions.” So not bad then and they broke the record by such a huge margin, Glover was initially doubtful. “That’s a lot in rowing. When Heather told me, I didn’t believe it.”
To vote for your winner visit btsport.com/actionwoman and follow the latest news on Twitter with #actionwoman.
Find out who wins when Clare Balding presents the award in a special hour-long show on Wednesday 10th December at 7pm on BT Sport 1.