Dafne Schippers

Born in Utrecht, central Netherlands on June 15, 1992, Dafne Schippers first found fame as a heptathlete, setting a new national record of 6,477 points when winning a bronze medal at the 2013 World Athletics Championships. She was, in fact, the first Dutchwoman to win a medal in the event. However, at the 2014 European Athletics Championships, Schippers won gold medals in both the 100 metres and 200 metres, setting a new national record in the latter event, which lead her to reassess her future in athletics. In preparation for the 2015 World Athletics Championships and the 2016 Summer Olympics, she announced that she would focus exclusively on sprint events, inevitably leading to her nickname, ‘The Flying Dutchwoman’.

At the 2015 World Athletics Championship in Beijing, Schippers set a new national record, of 10.80 seconds, when winning a silver medal in the 100 metres and a new European record, of 21.63 seconds, when winning a gold medal in the 200 metres. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro proved to be a disappointment, with Schippers finishing only fifth behind Jamaican Elaine Thompson in the 100 metres final and occupying the silver medal position behind the same rival in the 200 metres final.

Having voiced her frustration, Schippers parted company with her original coach Bart Bennema – whom she would rejoin in November, 2018 – in favour of Florida-based Rana Reider in preparation for the World Athletics Championships in London in 2017. The new association proved successful, at least for a time. Schippers won a bronze medal in the 100 metres and defending her title in the 200 metres, following in the footsteps of Jamaican Merlene Ottey and American Allyson Felix as one of just three athletes to do so.

Jo Pavey

Joanne ‘Jo’ Pavey MBE is probably best known for winning the gold medal in the 10,000 metres at the European Athletics Championships in Zurich, Swizerland in August, 2014. She did so at the age of 40 years and 325 days, thereby becoming the oldest female European in history. Later she joked,

‘When I won at the European Championships, I got a double-barrelled surname. I was referred to as ‘Jo Pavey-Forty’.’

Nevertheless, Pavey was appointed Member of the Order of the British (MBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2015 and earned a call-up to represent Great Britain at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero. Thus, she became the first British track athlete to compete at five consecutive Olympic Games.

Born in Honiton, Devon on September 20, 1973, Pavey achieved her best Olympic placing when fifth, behind Meseret Defar of Ethiopia, in the final of the 5,000 metres at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Three years later, she finished fourth in the final of the 10,000 metres at the World Athletics Championships in Osaka, Japan. However, a decade later, in 2017, original silver medallist Elvan Abeylegesse was disqualified for taking a prohibited substance, such that Pavey was retrospectively awarded the bronze medal.

Prior to her victory in Zurich, Pavey had also won the silver medal in the 10,000 metres at the 2012 European Athletics in Helsinki, Finland. She was also a two-time medallist over 5,000 metres at the Commonwealth Games, winning silver in Melbourne in 2006 and bromze in Glasgow eight years later.

Pavey, a mother of two, admitted that the postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo until 2021 was disappointing, but nonetheless expressed her determination to ‘give it a go’. A sixth Olympic Games, at the age of 47, ultimately proved beyond her, but her never-say-die attitude remains an inspiration to athletes of all ages.

Laila Ali

Laila Ali is, of course, the daughter of the late Muhammad Ali, arguably the most famous boxer of all time, and his third wife, Veronica Porche. However, Laila Ali become a boxing world champion in her own right, retiring undefeated, with a 24-0-0 record, including 21 knockouts, in February, 2007.

Originally, Laila Ali had no intention of becoming an athlete but, having seen women’s boxing on television, secretly began training to become a professional boxer at the age of 19. Three years later, she made her debut against April Fowler at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York, winning by knockout after just 31 seconds of the first round.

Over the next two years, a further eight victories, all bar one of which were by knockout or technical knockout, followed. On June 8, 2001, Ali fought Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, the daughter of Joe Frazier, in a bout billed as ‘Ali Frazier IV’, hinting at the classic trilogy of bouts their fathers fought in 1971, 1974 and 1975. Laila Ali won by majority decision.

Ali won her first world title, the inaugural International Boxing Association (IBA) super middleweight title, with a second round technical knockout of Suzette Taylor at the Aladdin Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada in August, 2002. In November, 2002, she defended that title and won the Women’s International Boxing Federation (WIBF) and Women’s International Boxing Association (WIBA) super middleweight titles with an eighth round technical knockout of Valerie Mahfood at the Stratosphere Hotel & Casino, again in Las Vegas.

After defending her super middleweight titles on several occasions, Ali knocked out Gwendolyn O’Neil in the third round at the Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia in September, 2004, to win the vacant WIBF light heavyweight title. The following June, she beat Erin Toughill by technical knockout in the third round at the MCI Centre, Washington DC to win the inaugural World Boxing Council (WBC) super middleweight title.

Katherine Brunt

Born in Barnsley on July 2, 1985, Katherine Brunt is a classical, right-arm fast bowler, who plays her domestic cricket for Yorkshire and Northern Diamonds. Since making her Test debut, against New Zealand in Scarborough, in August, 2004, she has become one of the finest servants of English cricket, with 250 caps in One Day International (ODI), Twenty20 International (T20I) and Test cricket. Indeed, she has won the International Cricket Council (ICC) Women’s Cricket World Cup twice, in 2009 and 2017, and the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup, formerly the ICC Women’s World Twenty20, once, also in 2009.

Brunt represented Yorkshire at Under-15 and Under-17 level but, by the age of 17 was, by her own admission, ‘as fat as anything’ and unhappy, so took some time away from the game. She returned to Yorkshire four stone lighter, entirely the result of her own willpower, quickly progressed to the now-defunct Super Fours and broke into the England team at the age of 19.

Brunt first played at the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup in South Africa in 2005, when England was eliminated at the semi-final stage by the eventual winners, Australia. Brunt also made her Ashes debut in 2005, taking 5-115 in the first Test at Hove and 9-111 in the second Test at Worcester, as well as scoring 52 runs in the first innings of the second Test. England won the series 1-0, thereby recording a Test victory over Australia for the first time since 1984 and an Ashes series victory for the first time since 1963.

Brunt is all the more remarkable for the fact that, throughout her career, she has been dogged by back injuries. She was ruled out of the 2007/08 Ashes series, having undergone surgery on her back, replaced by Lancashire bowler Kate Cross for the duration of the 2013/14 Ashes series after suffering a recurrence of the same injury and, once again, ruled out of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup, when the injury flared up in a warm-up match.

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