Rachael Blackmore

Recently described by Conor O’Neill, Chairman of the Association of Irish Racecourses, as a ‘fantastic ambassador’ for National Hunt racing, jockey Rachael Blackmore is probably best known as the first woman to ride the winner of the Grand National. On April 10, 2021, she partnered Minella Times, trained by Henry de Bromhead, to a 6½-length victory over stable companion Balko Des Flos in the celebrated steeplechase. Reflecting on her groundbreaking success, Blackmore said, ‘I don’t feel male or female – I don’t feel human.’

Even before the Grand National, Blackmore and de Bromhead were already enjoying what the Racing Post described as a ‘season of wonder’ in 2020/21. At the Cheltenham Festival, Blackmore rode six winners, including Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle, to become the first woman in history to win the Ruby Walsh Trophy, presented to the leading rider for the week. Back at the Festival in 2022, Blackmore rode three more winners, including Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle again, but stole the headlines again by becoming the first woman to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. After riding 3/1 favourite A Plus Tard to a 15-length victory over defending champion, and stable companion, Minella Indo, she said, ‘You can never dream too big because this is something I never thought would be possible.’

A graduate of the University of Limerick, Blackmore rode her first winner, Stowaway Pearl, trained by John Joseph ‘Shark’ Hanlon, at Thurles in February, 2011, as a 20-year-old amateur. She turned professional in 2015 and, in 2017, became the first woman to win the Irish Conditional Jockeys’ Championship. That summer, she began a partnership with Henry de Bromhead, whom she described as a ‘game-changer’ as far as her riding career was concerned, and has never looked back.

Laura Kenny

Laura Kenny, née Trott, who was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for services to cycling in the New Year Honours List for 2022, has the distinction of being the most successful British woman in Olympic history. At the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, won her fifth Olympic gold medal, alongside Katie Archibald, in the inaugural madison event, having already won a silver medal in the team pursuit, alongside Archibald, Neah Evans and Josie Knight.

In so doing, Kenny also became the first British woman to win gold medals at three Olympic Games. At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, her first Olympic Games, Kenny won gold medals in the omnium – in which she was already the World and European champion – and in the team pursuit, alongside Dani Rowe and Joanna Rowsell, setting a new world record in the process. Four years later, at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, she successfully defended both titles, although with Elinor Barker replacing Dani Rowe in the team pursuit. Once again, Team GB set a new world record in the final of the team pursuit.

Away from the Olympics, Kenny has also won seven gold medals at the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Track Cycling World Championships. Between 2011 and 2014, with various partners, she won gold in the team pursuit four years running and, in individual events, gold in the omnium in Melbourne in 2012 and gold in both the scratch race and omnium in London in 2016.

More recently, Kenny, 30, was named in the 35-strong Team England squad for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, the track cycling events of which will take place at the Lee Valley VeloPark in London in late July and early August. So far, she has just one Commonwealth gold medal to her name, having recovered from a kidney infection to win the points race in Glasgow in 2014.

Kelly Holmes

Dame Kelly Holmes, who was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the New Year Honours List for 2005, is a retired middle-distance runner. After years of struggling with injury, Holmes is best remembered for her double Olympic triumph on the track at the 2004 Summer Olympics, where she won gold medals in both the 800 metres and 1,500 metres at the age of 34.

Originally, Holmes had intended to contest just the 1,500 metres but, buoyed by a victory over Slovenian Jolanda Čeplak at the Birmingham International Meeting, a month or so before the Olympic 800-metre final, she made a last-minute decision to run the two-lap event as well. Reflecting on her choice, she said, ‘For the first time in seven years I was having to make my own decisions about racing, rather than having them forced upon me by injuries.’

In the final of the 800 metres, Holmes produced a late surge, which carried her to victory, ahead of Hasna Benhassi of Morocco and Čeplak, in a time of 1 minute 56.38 seconds, her best time for nine years. Defending champion, and favourite, Maria Mutola of Mozambique could only finish fourth. Five days later, in the final of the 1,500 metres, Holmes employed similar tactics but, with her confidence at an all-time high, broke her own British record, set seven years earlier, and came home ahead of Russian Tatyana Tomashova and Romanian Maria Cioncan in a time of 3 minutes 57.90 seconds. In so doing, she became the oldest woman to win either the 800 metres or the 1,500 metres at the Olympic Games.

The historic double proved just reward for Holmes, who had endured a particularly trying athletics career. At the 1996 Summer Olympics, she finished fourth in the final of the 800 metres, despite a stress fracture and four years later, in Sydney, won a bronze medal in the same event, despite a ruptured calf that limited her training to just six weeks.

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King (née Moffitt) is one of the most influential figures in the history of women’s tennis. Born in Long Beach, California on November 22, 1943, King made her Grand Slam debut in the US National Championships – which would become the US Open, although the Open Era did not begin until 1968 – in 1959 at the age of 15. She lost to compatriot Justina Bricka in the first round on that occasion, despite holding a match point in the first set.

However, at the time of her retirement from competitive tennis in 1983, King had won a total of 39 Grand Slam titles – 12 in singles, 16 in women’s doubles and 11 in mixed doubles – more than any other female player in history bar Margaret Court and Martina Navratilova. She turned professional at the start of the Open Era and, in 1971, became the first female athlete, of any description, to win over $100,000 in a single season.

King was particulary successful at Wimbledon, where she won 20 titles – a record she shares with Martina Navratilova – including six singles titles between 1966 and 1975. Indeed, she completed a so-called ‘career Grand Slam’ in women’s singles and mixed doubles and won women’s doubles titles at Wimbledon, the French Open and the US Open. She also won the Federation Cup, which was renamed the Billie Jean King Cup in 2020, seven times and the Wightman Cup nine times.

A pioneer for gender equality, social justice, including LGBTQ+ rights, King was instrumental in the foundation of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), thereby uniting women’s professional tennis into a single tour. Nowadays, the WTA Tour consists of over 50 events worldwide. King was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987, the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990 and, in 2006, the USTA National Tennis Center was renamed in her honour.

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