Celebrating women in sport

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On March 8th, we come together to honour International Women’s Day. One of the many goals of this great day is ‘celebrating women’s achievements.’ What a perfect opportunity to highlight the multitude of elite and inspiring female athletes who’ve accomplished so much this past year. Each one of these incredible women deserves much longer pieces dedicated to their struggles, successes, and backstories, so please take some time to research your favourites.

Sabrina Ionescu (New York Liberty – Basketball)

A major inspiration behind this article was the recent ‘Sabrina versus Steph’ competition that took place during the NBA’s All-Star weekend. Not only was this occasion the highlight of the event, but it signified some real progress in women’s basketball discourse. Sabrina Ionescu was the number one pick in the 2020 draft and holds numerous records in college basketball and the WNBA. However, her generational three-point shooting has skyrocketed her popularity, spearheaded by her record 37-point three-point contest performance at the WNBA All-Star Weekend.

Within days, talks were being held to host a competition with Steph Curry, the greatest male three-point shooter of all time. Curry is a huge fan of Sabrina, and the whole event was incredibly wholesome, with both clearly enjoying the friendly competition. Sabrina scored 26 points, losing to Steph by three, but amusingly, she would have tied the winner of the men’s event, Damian Lillard.

The hype for this event was not only unprecedented, but the tone felt much more positive than in previous years. Although women’s basketball has been thriving for years, with first-class athletes across the world, discussions have remained backwards, misogynistic, and negative. Sometimes, you just need a couple of athletes to turn the tide, and Sabrina is certainly one of them.

Caitlin Clark (Iowa Hawkeyes – Basketball)

The next generation of female ballers is in good hands, because Caitlin Clark could become the greatest to ever do it. Is that an exaggeration? Maybe, but I beg you to watch some of her highlights; I guarantee both disbelief and entertainment. A smooth handle, genius playmaking, and infinite range make her the most exciting college basketball player ever. And I mean infinite range; she’s pulling up from anywhere. She has just declared for the WNBA draft, but social media often jokes that the Detroit Pistons should draft her. Although comparisons between men’s and women’s games aren’t always constructive, it’s hard not to chuckle at that. The fact that it is universally accepted that the 22-year-old is the real deal is a great sign that things are changing. Clark seems to be transcending the sphere of basketball, and I really hope she ends up playing in the Olympics someday, becoming a global superstar.

A smooth handle, genius playmaking, and infinite range make Clark the most exciting college basketball player ever

Mary Earps (Manchester United – Football)

FIFA Women’s World Cup Golden Glove. Sports Personality of the Year. The Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper. England Women’s Player of the Year. Member of the Order of the British Empire. Mary Earps has had quite a year. Despite what the world’s biggest idiotic, misogynistic bonehead, Joey Barton, says, Earps is one of the greatest English footballers of her generation. The penalty save in the World Cup Final, followed by screaming expletives at her defence, is one of THE moments of 2023. She’s another example of someone breaking down narratives, exemplified by her forcing Nike to produce her replica goalkeeper kit, a wonderful sign that kids are inspired by her jaw-dropping performances and marvellous persona. Women’s football has come so far, and we are within a generation of an exponential jump in popularity, largely down to role models like Mary Earps.

Aitana Bonmatí (Futbol Club Barcelona Femení- Football)

The introduction of female players into the popular video game EAFC24, despite what some trolls will tell you, has been a roaring success and a breath of fresh air for a stale franchise. It has also led to exposure for these footballers, as gamers can pack and play with some of the best in the world. I am ashamed to say I was not familiar with Aitana Bonmatí’s game, but it didn’t take long to understand why she won the Ballon d’Or and a World Cup with Spain.

She glides over the pitch, with or without the ball, seemingly without touching the ground. She has an immaculate touch that we could only dream of having. To say she has a strong left foot is an understatement; there is simply no weak foot, and she demonstrates her impressive vision and finishing with ease on either side. Bonmatí is versatile too, equally capable of playing on either flank, through the middle, or sitting deep. Legendary coach Pep Guardiola describes her profile as “similar to Iniesta,” but she has a unique aura around her that makes her truly special. It really is the beautiful game when you watch her Barcelona team play the tika-taka style that has led to 62 wins in a row. Once again, a Bonmatí compilation will have you mesmerised; I cannot recommend it enough.

Legendary coach Pep Guardiola describes Bonmati’s profile as “similar to Iniesta”

Doriane Pin (Prema Racing)

Motorsport has some serious issues with inclusivity. The Formula One grid contains one person of colour and arguably only two drivers from lower-income backgrounds. More noticeably, there’s a lack of female presence in the paddock, whether that’s a driver, engineer, or mechanic. While we are many years from achieving equality and opportunities for young women in motorsport, a breakthrough female star driver could kickstart progress. The Frenchwoman Doriane Pin could just be that, following in the footsteps of French Rally icon Michèle Mouton (well worth a look-up). Her debut in F1’s new female series, ‘F1 Academy,’ was pure dominant speed. First in qualifying by over half a second and a lights-to-flag victory in the race was a brief showcase of this woman’s talents and raw pace. With backing from Mercedes and Prema, a title could lead to a major opportunity in a series like Formula 3. Hopefully this is just the beginning for the 20-year-old and women dreaming of reaching the top of motorsport.

Simeone Biles (Gymnastics)

In gymnastics, there are certain routines and moves that almost every single person in the world cannot do. They are so difficult that basically no one dares attempt them in competitions or training. But you may ask, how were these moves invented? Well, there’s one person who continues to push the boundaries of what the human body can do. Simeone Biles. The undisputed greatest gymnast of all time, a rare feat in any sport to consider such.

With 30 World Championship medals, including 23 golds, being an Olympic Champion in many different disciplines, and five different moves named after her, Biles is a global icon. She will be looking for even more medals in Paris 2024, but her legacy is already secured. The 4’8″ American has had her struggles, pulling out of 2020 Olympic events through the ‘twisties,’ and has taken a 2-year mental health break. But this makes her even more of an inspiration; her story reflects on the difficult pressure to succeed and maintain an impossible standard set by herself and the media. It’s a privilege to witness her greatness, and no, I still can’t tell you the name of her husband.

Biles’ story reflects on the difficult pressure to succeed and maintain an impossible standard set by herself and the media

Coco Gauff (Tennis)

Coco Gauff upsets me a little. A 15-year-old playing in the fourth round at Wimbledon in Centre Court—the first big breakthrough of an athlete younger than you always hits you hard. Leaving my jealousy aside, Coco Gauff is a rare talent. It’s rare for tennis players to succeed to the level she has this quickly and survive the harsh physical challenge of the WTA Tour, something Emma Raducanu is slowly working her way through. But Coco has taken it all in stride, dealt with the relentless press coverage and some injury setbacks, and won her first Grand Slam at the most recent US Open. On top of all that, she’s also reached world number one for doubles. And found the time to get on the cover of Vogue. To say she’s one to watch is almost offensive; she’s likely to be up there in the world rankings for the decade and a half, given she’s incredibly 19 years old. Coco could well go down as one of the greats, and we will all be watching her quest with intrigue.

Sky Brown (Skateboarding and Surfing)

Britain’s youngest ever Olympian, Sky Brown, is one of the most unique sportswomen you’ll ever read about. She started surfing and skateboarding at three, competed in major competitions at eight, and became a professional athlete at 10. She really rose to fame at the Tokyo Olympics, after a bronze in skateboarding meant she was the youngest ever medal winner in British Olympic history. On top of that, the British-Japanese-born skateboarder is the first British World Champion.

Sky’s relaxed approach to competing is a real breath of fresh air in a world of hypercompetitive sports. Without a coach, Sky teaches herself via YouTube while posting her talent on social media. She takes the dangers and major injuries in her stride and comes back to push the boundaries of what is possible in skateboarding. She is certainly one to watch in surfing and skateboarding in years to come.

Image: Carine06 via Wikimedia Commons

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