The hunt for BT’s Action Woman of the Year 2014 is underway and every month BT Sport will be highlighting potential contenders.
But it’s not just down to us – we want you to nominate the sportswomen who we might have missed, using the #BTActionWoman hashtag on Twitter.
A final shortlist of 10 nominees will be produced at the end of the year and put to a public vote to decide the winner.
It so nearly didn’t happen. Early this year, Zoe Smith, Britain’s teenage weightlifting star, had been on the verge of surrendering to a pile-up of unfortunate events. Post-London Olympics, where she finished 12th, it seemed that everything that could go wrong promptly did. She suffered a string of injuries, she barely trained and then UK Sport withdrew weightlifting’s funding. Having just left home, she was struggling to pay her rent.
Then the women’s section of the weightlifting team earned a reprieve in March, she hooked up with a new coach, Sam Dovey, and at the European Weightlifting Championships in Tel Aviv, the new dawn was evident when she made history by becoming only the second British woman ever to win a medal at the event. With an overall 204kg - combining the scores from the snatch and the clean and jerk - the charismatic young Londoner claimed a bronze medal and her career looks back on track.
1 - Younger sister, Yana, 16, who has also competed in weightlifting at the London Youth Games and doesn’t rule out making a career of the sport.
5ft 2.5in – Zoe's height.
58k - The weight at which she competes, not always an easy task. Like jockeys, she has to lose fluid fast sometimes to make the weight.
121.0kg (266.8lb) - The British record in the clean and jerk held by Zoe Smith.
133 - Bags of sugar (roughly) which equate to the above weight.
40 - Her mental age, according to her coach.
Her ecstasy was restrained given the fact that she had lifted substantially more (211kg) at the Olympics, but she said she was recovering from the effects of a cold. “I have mixed emotions, but not too shabby,” she said.
In fact, as her coach has revealed, she was suffering from the effects of a serious virus. “She was just being modest when she called it ‘a cold’. She really wasn’t well at all. The result showed you what a soldier she really is.
“She is a lovely girl. A very determined young lady, very driven, very focused. In terms of her perspective on life, she’s incredibly advanced for her age. She’s very pro female athletes and very pro women being strong.”
Smith turned 20 on April 26 and can already look back over a four-year career that lit the touchpaper in Delhi at the Commonwealth Games where, postponing her A levels, she won a bronze medal at the conspicuously young age of 16. She had been training as a gymnast at school in Greenwich when someone asked her to take up weightlifting to plug a gap in their team at the London Youth Games.
She was far from an unknown by London 2012. A medal was unlikely given the dominance of Eastern European nations in her event and a clouded history of drug abuse in the sport, but she competed creditably, finishing 12th, and was notably terrific in post-lift interviews. She talked straight to the social media misogynists who criticised her muscle-power. “There are people who hate female weightlifters because we apparently all look like men. But we don’t. I’m a girl. I wear make-up and lip gloss.”
She also described her rapture at being so well-received by the cheering crowds in the Excel Arena. “When I went to see Muse at Wembley, it was a similar level of cheer. They’re a massive band and I feel like them! That’s crazy.”
The Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, or as it is known colloquially, ‘the cricket bible’, is a cricket reference book, published annually, that decides the traditional Wisden Cricketer of the Year Awards.
Not all that long ago, female cricketers were not even allowed in the Pavillion at the sacred home of of the game Lords - oh how times have changed. Now, not only are they allowed in the Pavillion, they’re winning trophies (more than can be said of the men!), getting full-time contracts and their captain, Charlotte Edwards, has become only the second female cricketer to be named as one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year.
She follows in a long and illustrious line of cricket legends dating back to 1889, including the likes of WG Grace, Shane Warne, Freddie Flintoff, Sachin Tendulka, Ian Botham and Nasser Hussain on the list.
16 - The age at which Edwards made her test debut.
34 - The number of runs scored by Edwards on said debut, against New Zealand at Woodbridge Road, Guildford in July 1996.
12 - The number of centuries scored by Edwards in 1997, including one against South Africa off 118 balls.
2009 - The year she was awarded an MBE for services to cricket.
2010 - The year when she made her 142nd ODI appearance - against Sri Lanka in November - making her the most capped female cricketer in the world.
From an 11-year-old who decided she would rather be playing cricket instead of making sandwiches for tea with her mother and Grandmother, to her country’s greatest ever runs scorer, Edwards has come a long way.
“Since I was a child I've looked at the Wisden - my dad always had it every year,” said Edwards.
“To be in the 2014 edition is a very proud moment for me. I'm honoured to think I'm in an illustrious list of players from the past."
The England captain has led her side to back-to-back Ashes victories; last summer in front of home crowds in England and this January, when they retained the urn in the Aussies’ own back yard.
I think about the game non-stop. Of ways we can get better. I live, breathe and love it."
Despite their recent loss to Australia in the World20 Final, Edwards insists she is hungrier than ever to keep making history. Earlier this year it was confirmed that female cricketers would be offered central contracts by the ECB, enabling them to become full-time professional cricketers.
She added: “I can honestly say I never thought I’d sit here in my time as a player and say I’m a professional cricketer. I’m very, very privileged to be in this position.”
It’s become something of a habit for Edwards, leading the way and making history. In her career she has won everything a cricketer can, with five Ashes series, the World Cup and the World Twenty20 in her locker. And her love for the game is stronger than ever.
She says she rarely sleeps on tours because she is always thinking about cricket. She woke up at 3am on the last day of the Test Match against Australia in Perth during the Ashes, running through scenarios of how the match could play out.
“I think about the game non-stop. Of ways we can get better. I live, breathe and love it.”
When she headed for the British Swimming Championships in Glasgow this month, Jazz Carlin wasn’t expecting to come away with a world-leading time.
Deep in training for the impending Commonwealth Games, the 23-year-old Welsh swimmer says her initial reaction after posting an 8:18.36 in the 800m freestyle – the world’s fastest time this year and a new Welsh record – was one of surprise.
“I’ve been working really hard in training and working well with my coach to do some great sets in the pool but I didn’t think it would happen in Glasgow at the trials,” said Carlin.
“I was really using it to train through and I was still in the middle of hard training, so it was a big surprise to me.
“In warm-up I really didn’t feel great and I was starting to worry ‘oh god, it’s not going to be a great swim’, but then as soon as I dived in the water I felt completely different.”
2 – The greatest influences on Carlin’s career – her parents and her coach.
36 – The number of years since a female Welsh swimmer won a Commonwealth Games medal before Carlin’s double haul in Delhi in 2010.
Two tenths of a second – The time by which Carlin lowered her own Welsh 800m record at the recent British Championships.
Five – Her age when she joined a ‘learn to swim’ programme.
16 – Her age when she moved to Swansea for her swimming and had to live on her own for the first time.
There was also success for Carlin in the 400m 24 hours later as she retained her title with a race of 4:04.68. Now the challenge is to pull off an equally dominant performance in the same pool this summer.
Her success in Glasgow means she heads into the Commonwealth Games with heightened medal expectation on her shoulders, having frequently attracted the billing as Britain’s next golden girl of the pool - a void itching to be filled following Rebecca Adlington’s retirement.
But it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the swimmer since she picked up silver and bronze in the 200 and 400m respectively at the last Commonwealth Games in Delhi back in 2010. Glandular fever derailed her training and kept her out of the London Olympics, then there was more disappointment at last year’s World Championships in Barcelona as she failed to medal, despite impressing at the British trials earlier in the season.
It’s like a relationship, you don’t want to give up until you’ve got what you want out of it."
On top of that, her coach since she was 16, American Bud McAllister, recently left Wales for a new post in Australia, which she admits was “a big shock”.
Carlin, nicknamed ‘Pitbull’ by McAllister for her tenacity in the pool, refuses to be discouraged by the setbacks.
“It has been tough,” she said. “I think there’s been a lot of times where I’ve sat back and thought ‘ugh, why am I doing this?’ or ‘why am I putting myself through this every day? Putting myself through the upset and the emotional stress?’. But I really do love swimming and when you put so much work into it, so much time, effort and emotion into it, you really do get attached to it.
“It’s like a relationship, you don’t want to give up until you’ve got what you want out of it. When I know I’ve still got things that I want to achieve, I think I’m not going to really let anything get in my way and stop me from trying to achieve them.”
For Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin, competing at her first World Cup final, the weekend in Lyon involved premiering her much anticipated floor-plan programme to new music and a face-off with the reigning champion, Helen Langehanenberg of Germany.
The result for 28-year-old Dujardin was victory in both classes; a World Cup title and a new world record in the Grand Prix. Her sensational performance in the freestyle-to-music won her the class by five per cent and highlighted why the formidable partnership of Dujardin and her horse, Valegro, is one of the most successful in dressage history.
Behind the pair is a strong band of support, including Valegro’s owner Roly Luard, who turned down a rumoured £6m for the horse so that Dujardin could keep the ride. At the forefront of the operation is mentor Carl Hester, himself an Olympic medallist and the man responsible for finding and nurturing the invincible partnership. He also wrote the programme for the freestyle – set to music from the animated film How To Train Your Dragon.
1 - Dujardin’s current world ranking.
93.975% - The world record set by Dujardin in the freestyle test at Olympia in December 2013 that she will be hoping to beat.
3 - The number of times Dujardin practiced her new freestyle programme before the World Cup.
0 - The number of times she had performed this programme in competition before the World Cup Final.
8 - The number of years Charlotte has been mentored by Carl Hester. She was originally employed as his groom. Also the number of years Dujardin has been riding Valegro.
“We were all thrilled with the freestyle,” said Hester. “It was an incredibly difficult routine, with this emotional music and no one had ever seen it before and although there was a fair difference between the judges scoring, they were pretty faultless.”
Hester, who was part of the Olympic gold medal winning team in London, is about to launch a book detailing his relationship with Charlotte as well as his own life story from humble beginnings, born on the island of Sark into a family with no equestrian connections. He says Dujardin didn’t veto anything he wrote about her “because she hasn’t read it. Unlike me she won’t read anything written about her in the press. She just doesn’t want to know.”
For the reigning European and Olympic champion and world record holder in all three dressage contests (Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special and Freestyle) there are two more strings to add to Dujardin’s bow, which both take place this year. In July, Dujardin will attempt to win the prestigious international show at Aachen. This is the lion’s den of international dressage, taking place in the heartland of German dressage, and to win equates to winning Wimbledon or Le Mans. Then, in August, Dujardin will be vying for the global individual and team titles at the World Equestrian Games.
“If they can win both of these, Charlotte and Valegro will have won every dressage accolade there is and the rest of their lives will be a breeze” said Hester. “The pressure is immense and that is what makes her so special. She has this fighting spirit, takes risks but can control her nerves and emotions and it’s never let her down.
“It must be a pressure cooker going on inside her head because with all this success, the expectations are so high. In fact, I dread the day she comes second.”
In women’s cycling, this year’s UCI World Cup has been dominated by Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead. The 25-year-old Yorkshire woman is in pole position in the World Cup Series after winning the opening round before finishing in second place in the following three races.
The Olympic silver medalist considers her most recent race, Fleche Wallone in Belgium, as the toughest so far, despite going into it with an 80-point lead.
The 127km course involves 11 steep climbs, with the mother of them all - known as ‘the Mur’ – which is located in the town of Huy, high above the valley of the Meuse and a 1.3 km ascent. Furthermore, this torturous challenge, shared with the men’s classic race, is climbed twice and being situated on the final stretch of the course requires Herculean efforts.
15- Armistead’s age when she took up cycling
160 - The number of points by which she is leading the World Cup Series.
9 - The number of races in the World Cup Series which culminates in the GP de Plouay on August 30.
5 - The number of medals Armistead won at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in 2009 and 2010 before choosing to focus on road racing.
10 - The age when she gave up eating meat.
Armistead finished second by just a few bike lengths to Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, who timed her final sprint up the Mur to take a narrow victory and the best result of her career. “With 150 metres to go, when you’re in that much pain, you think right, let’s go. Pauline was on my wheel the whole time and it was difficult to hold her off.” Armistead told Cycling Weekly. “This race is not ideally suited to me, a sprint finish would have been better.”
With five races remaining Armistead, who races for the Boels Dolmans team, increased her lead over Sweden’s Emma Johansson to 160 points. However, the fight is far from over as Fleche marked the return of Dutch cyclist and World Champion Marianne Vos, who has won the event five times in seven years.
Armistead is another of British cycling’s success stories, having come up through the Olympic Talent Programme whilst still at school. She started out in track cycling but the early years of her cycling career were plagued with injury throughout 2007/2008, which disrupted her training and slowed her progress. It was towards the end of 2008 that she first impressed spectators at the UCI Track Cycling World Cup, collecting an armful of gold medals in the Points, Scratch and Team Pursuit disciplines.
The London Olympics saw Lizzie claim silver in the road race after she made it into a four-rider break in treacherous wet conditions and only lost out to Vos in the final sprint. Her individual performance produced Team GB’s first medal of the Games.
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