This time last century the suffragettes were campaigning for the vote and up to their ears in petticoats and disdain; now women, fully entitled to run, punch, lift, swim, heave, jump, cycle, triple somersault and whack on entirely equal terms with men, have just won a basket-full of medals at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Such is progress.
Superstars and newbies have performed feats before our eyes that will set off a new train of ambition in others. Here we acknowledge just a few of those women who have lit up the Games in Glasgow.
1. Lizzie Armitstead, England cyclist, winner of the women’s road race, for not being the bridesmaid any more. “Finally I’m a champion,” said the sportswoman who won silver in London but went one better in Glasgow on a dastardly, rain-slicked course with England team-mate Emma Pooley hammering behind her, doubling the downpour with her tears on her last outing as an international cyclist. Remember when Sir Bradley Wiggins described himself on the Tour de Giro in 2013 as descending like “a bit of a girl” - and he didn’t mean well. Now it’s turned into a glorious compliment.
2. Nicola Adams, the first woman in history to win a Commonwealth Games boxing medal, a golden one at that, after out-pointing Michaela Walsh of Northern Ireland in the flyweight final at the Hydro Arena where old habits ran deep. “Go on, wee man!” yelled a passionate supporter in the crowd not yet fully accustomed to the ground-breaking phenomenon of female boxers in the ring. But there is no going back and Adams’ Sheffield-forged steeliness will be contending for gold at the World Championships in the autumn as well as on to Rio.
3. Captain Kate Walsh and the England women’s hockey team, for almost holding out against the invariably dominant Australians in the final and succumbing only to defeat in the shootout. For Walsh personally, it represented a smoother run than at the Olympics when a hockey stick to the face smashed her jaw and she was forced to lead her team to bronze in a face mask after hospital surgery and a great deal of soup through a straw. Her courage and longevity was duly acknowledged when her fellow athletes voted her the England team flag bearer at the Closing Ceremony.
Kate Walsh (L) carried England's flag in the closing ceremony
4. Claudia Fragapane, who made English sporting history with four gold medals in the artistic gymnastics at the age of 16: a 4’6” pocket rocket fuelled by fearlessness. “I can just express myself and go wild, because I’m so bouncy and everything, it’s just great,” she said irrepressibly, having wowed her audience with a circus-cum-breakdancing floor routine featuring cascades of somersaults and tumbles. She is only the second woman ever to win four golds for England at the Commonwealth Games following Joyce Cooper in the swimming in 1930.
5. Lynsey Sharp, the middle-distance runner from Edinburgh, whose own mum calls her a ‘diva’, won the ‘most dramatic recovery award’ for claiming silver in the 800m after spending a sleepless night throwing up and wired to a drip in the athlete’s village clinic. “This is my everything,” she said afterwards. "It was so bad. I was like: 'How am I going to be able to run if I can't bend over to take my socks off?' But, somehow, another miracle." She had “GET OUT STRONG” and “COMMIT” written in bold ink on her hands, as does Louis Van Gaal (probably).
6. Erraid Davies, 13, the epitome of youthful enthusiasm, her mouth an ‘O’ of amazement as she pushed up her goggles to confirm from the scoreboard that she was indeed a bronze medalist in the women’s Para Sport 100m breaststroke. The Shetland schoolgirl, Scotland's youngest ever Commonwealth competitor, caused an immediate sensation, especially when it was revealed that she trains in a 16m pool, scarcely the width of a goldfish bowl compared to Olympic-size competition venues. "I just managed to stop crying but it was difficult," said her father David, understandably.
Zoe Smith shows off her weightlifting gold medal
7. Taoriba Biniati, the female boxer from Kiribati who inspired the Quote of the Games. The 18-year-old answered an advert to box for her country at the Commonwealth Games and so came under the wing of former Hampshire policeman Derek Andrewartha who thought he’d better test her resilience. “I hit her in the face - not hard - and said: ‘How did that feel?’ And she said: ‘Fine’.” A testimony to courageous women everywhere. In the event, having only trained against a punch bag hanging from a breadfruit tree, she was outclassed by her Mauritian opponent but she survived four rounds and goes home, hailed as a heroine.
8. Zoe Smith, for her gold medal in the weightlifting competition, following in the footsteps of strong-arm heroes like Precious McKenzie, three-time Commonwealth gold medalist (1966-74), who it stunned her to discover possessed a father eaten by a crocodile on the Limpopo River. “You having me on?” she said. No, such is the exotica contained in her sport. The 20-year-old once dubbed ‘Britain’s strongest schoolgirl’ also neatly encapsulated the necessary relaxation that followed the expenditure of gold-winning energy. “Now I’m eating dry Reese’s Puffs from the box in my underwear. What’s happening to me?” she tweeted the day after her triumph.
9. Jodie Stimpson, the Black Country triathlete, for being the first English Commonwealth gold medalist in Glasgow with a dominant piece of front running to finish the women’s triathlon in 1 hour 58 min 56 sec and then following up with a second gold in the triathlon relay alongside Vicky Holland and the all-conquering Brownlee Brothers. It is the genius of the ever-rising triathlon community that they have thought up a shortened uni-sex version of their sport that will lure ever more men, women, girls, boys to have a go on equal terms.
10. The spirit of strong Scottish women as evoked by boxer Charlie Flynn’s mum and a campaigning great-grandma called Agnes. Flynn, the 20-year-old postman from Lanarkshire, winner in the lightweight category, became an instant legend for his breakneck repartee including this appreciation of his mother. “I’d like to thank my mum for doin’ aw ma washin’,” he said with beautiful simplicity. As for Agnes Collins, many a young athlete will have her to thank for helping set up Reidvale Adventure Playground in a tough part of Glasgow’s East End. All on a voluntary basis. She still works out herself. Little bit of light yoga? “Combat fighting,” she said. That says it all.
Check out the latest contenders for the BT Action Woman Awards here.