A “spectacular” year of women’s sport - 2021

A “spectacular” year of women’s sport - 2021

In short – and as the award-winning broadcaster states – it’s been a truly incredible year for women’s sport, but why be brief at the end of a year like 2021?

The achievements of individual sports women as well as numerous teams have been so astounding that they deserve proper acknowledgement and so at the Women’s Sports Alliance we’ve gathered together some of our favourite moments from the year.

We would also like to highlight comments by MP Tracy Crouch who stated that despite the challenges created by the pandemic, women’s sport is “not just surviving, but thriving.”

SENSATIONAL PERFORMANCES IN 2021

EMMA RADUCANU – TENNIS

Where else can we begin but with the British teenager’s sensational unbeaten run at the US Open in September? After winning through the qualifying stage the then 18-year-old maintained that form in the main draw. No opponent could even take so much as set from her with the Briton ultimately going on to become the first unseeded player to win the event.

Raducanu was the first British woman to win a Grand Slam singles title since Virginia Wade in 1977 and capped an incredible break-through year by winning the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award. Another historic achievement, given the last female winner - Zara Phillips - achieved it in 2006.

“This year has been insane,” she remarked after collecting the iconic trophy.

ELAINE THOMPSON-HERAH - ATHLETICS

Athletics has craved a new superstar since the retirement of Usain Bolt in 2017 and fellow Jamiacan Thompson-Herah has now emerged as worthy successor.

That said, despite winning the sprint double at Rio 2016 her form had been so unpredictable in the years since that she was barely mentioned among the major contenders in either the 100m or 200m events ahead of Tokyo 2020.

However, she produced two incredible performances and became the first women in history to defend both titles. Thompson-Herah completed the triple-crown with victory alongside her team-mates in the 4x100m relay.

The five-time Olympic champion, who’s 100m personal best of 10.54 seconds is just 0.05 secs short of the world record set by Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988, was also named World Athletics Female Athlete of the Year in 2021.

RACHAEL BLACKMORE – HORSE RACING

In April Rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the Grand National. She was also the first woman to win the ‘champion hurdle’ title at Cheltenham and was the top jockey at the event.

"I don't feel male or female right now, I don't even feel human,” she stated when asked about her historic Grand National victory moments after the victory. It's unbelievable!"

Blackmore was another leading sportswoman to be acknowledged at the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year event after winning the ‘World Sports Star’ award.

“What Rachael Blackmore has done this year has changed the landscape for every girl and every woman working in horseracing,” says Clare Balding - and she speaks with authority.

DAME SARAH STOREY – PARA-CYCLING:

Dame Sarah Storey trailed record-holder Mike Kenny’s haul of 16 Paralympic gold medals by two heading into the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. Few doubted she would not only match, but surpass that total as she bid to defend the three titles won in Rio five years earlier.

True to that belief Dame Storey was in peerless form and the former swimmer turned cyclist marked her eighth Paralympic Games with victory on the track before two successes in road cycling.

“It’s a dream come true,” she remarked at the time. “It’s been very surreal but it’s been everything I could ever have hoped for.”

Dame Storey, who made her Games debut in 1992, has now achieved 28 Paralympic medals (17 of them gold) and has no plans to quit any time soon.

EMMA MCKEON - SWIMMING

Emma McKeon’s astounding Tokyo 2020 haul of seven medals – four gold and three bronze – equalled the female record for a single Olympics, set by Soviet gymnastic Maria Gorkhovskaya in 1952.

The swimmer’s successes included an impressive 50m / 100m freestyle individual golden double and helping the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay team to victory in a new world record of three minutes 30.05 seconds.

When added to the four honours she achieved at Rio 2016, her 11 career Olympic medals makes her Australia’s most decorated Olympian of all-time.

OTHER STANDOUT PERFORMANCES IN 2021:

There were so many breath-taking performances to credit from 2021 that it’s near impossible to list them all, but here are a few other outstanding individual achievements and moments we would like to acknowledge..

Simone Biles (gymnastics) – The history-making American may have been predicted to dominate the gymnastics disciplines at the Tokyo Olympics, but it soon became apparent that all was not well.

Biles revealed her mental health struggles and difficulties with her “twisties” shortly after withdrawing midway through the team final. She would later return and win individual beam bronze, but the impact of her honesty arguably had a greater impact than any medal successes ever could have. Numerous high-profile athletes subsequently revealed they had been inspired to speak out about their own struggles following Biles’ openness. As such, Tokyo 2020 became a Games where medals matter, but perhaps mental health awareness was the biggest winner.

Jamie Chadwick (W Series - Motorsport) – The history-making racing driver won the inaugural W Series in 2019 and with the championship postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020 she returned this year to impressively successfully defend her crown.

Laura Kenny (cycling) - The cyclist became the first British woman to win an Olympic gold medal at three successive Games at Tokyo 2020. Kenny, who returned to the sport after giving birth to her son Archie in late 2017, claimed gold and silver in Japan taking her Olympic career total to six medals (five gold, one silver) which makes her the most decorated British female Olympian in history.

Sky Brown (skateboarding) – At 13 years and 28 days old Sky Brown became Team GB’s second youngest Olympian and youngest medallist of all-time when she skated her way to a historic bronze at Tokyo 2020. She, unsurprisingly, was also announced as the winner of the BBC’s prestigious Young Sports Personality of the Year award in December.

Emily Campbell (weightlifting) – For decades achieving the ultimate prize in weightlifting seems like an unattainable dream owing to the wide-spread by largely ignored cheating within the sport. Times are finally changing though and Campbell’s incredible silver medal-winning performance in Tokyo secured Britain a first-ever Olympic honour in the sport.

Charlotte Worthington (BMX) – The former chef turned scooter star and now BMX champion freestyler won gold in the first-ever Olympic freestyle BMX event. The Briton landed the first-ever 360 backflip in a women’s event and her success was hailed by Tom Daley and Laura Kenny as among their favourite moments of the Tokyo Games.

Ellie Simmonds and Ellie Robinson (para-swimming) – The two Ellie’s retired from the sport for different reasons, but their post-race ‘goodbye’ messages were equally powerful and poignant. The pair, who won seven Paralympic gold medals between them, highlighted the power of perseverance and overcoming adversity. They leave an incredible legacy, having inspired thousands around the UK as well as the world and plan to continue contributing to their sport even in retirement.

Ash Barty (tennis) – Emma Raducanu may rightly have stolen most of the tennis-related headlines in the latter half of 2021, but prior to the US Open was Wimbledon where Australian Ash Barty claimed the second Grand Slam title of her career. She also finished an impressive year ranked as world number one.

Kylie Grimes (wheelchair rugby) – The 33-year-old became the first woman of any nationality to win Paralympic wheelchair gold when she was part of the British team at Tokyo 2020. It was Great Britain’s first-ever Paralympic medal in the sport and Grimes hopes her success will inspire other women to take up the mixed event, which has traditionally been dominated by men.

Alice Dearing (swimming) – The open water (marathon swimming) specialist became the first black woman to represent Great Britain in an Olympic swimming event at Tokyo 2020. She has also dedicated her career to breaking down stereotypes and improving opportunities for people from communities who are traditionally overlooked or do not engage with the sport.

OUTSTANDING TEAM SUCCESSES IN 2021:

Oval Invincibles

Oval Invincibles were the inaugural winners of The Hundred - a 100-ball cricket tournament which launched in 2021. The team beat the Southern Brave by 48 runs in front of 17,000 fans in the first women’s final at the world famous Lord's Cricket Ground in 207 years.

St.Helens’ R.F.C.

St. Helens’ Women’s Rugby League team won the treble this season by claiming the Betfred Challenge Cup, League Leaders’ trophy and the Betfred Super League title.

Solheim Cup - Team Europe

Team Europe defeated Team USA 15-13 to claim historic victory on away soil. It was a second succusive Solheim Cup victory and only their second away win in the tournament's history.

The Red Roses

The England women’s rugby team completed a second-successive unbeated year and have now won 18 tests in a row. Most noticeably this included a third successive Women’s Six Nation title and back-to-back victories over world champions New Zealand.

Barcelona FC

Chelsea have been the outstanding English team over the last year, completing the Women’s Super League, League Cup and FA Cup treble, but they were beaten by a brilliant Barcelona side in the Champions League final. That success the stand-out victory in their own treble which also included the Primera Iberdrola and Copa de la Reina titles.

Team Canada

After bronze medals at London 2012 and Rio 2016 the Canadian women finally landed the sport’s major Olympic prize at Tokyo 2020.

The team secured victory - after a 1-1 draw - via a dramatic 3-2 penalty shoot-out. Desiree Scott, Christine Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt all claimed their third Olympic medals while  Midfielder Quinn became the first openly transgender and non-binary athlete in any sport to ever win an Olympic medal.